While the Mobile delegation to the Farnborough International Airshow didn’t immediately come back stateside with any big announcements, local leaders believe they made successful connections that will prove fruitful in the future.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson said the trip was more about building and sustaining relationships with future Airbus suppliers, rather than immediate results. His goal was to position Mobile as the best place for new aerospace investment and new jobs.
He said in some cases whether a company relocates and brings jobs to the Mobile area depends largely on the bidding process for an Airbus contract. Stimpson said a company could be ready to move to Mobile, but then doesn’t win the contract.
“It’s part of the process we go through,” Stimpson said. “It does make you frustrated because you can’t control who wins the bid.”
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne said he expects announcements to come soon from “high-end aviation firms.”
“Most (suppliers) are waiting to see if they’re going to be a supplier for Mobile,” he said.
However, Stimpson believes suppliers’ presence in Mobile is inevitable as production of the Airbus A320, expected in 2015, ramps up. Suppliers would increase, especially if Airbus increases production.
“It’s crucial that the city does a good job in workforce development,” Stimpson said. “More production from Airbus means more jobs available.”
Byrne didn’t specifically name any vendors from the show, except Atmore’s Muskogee Ironworks and Foley’s UTC Aerospace Systems, but he said the suppliers at the show provide everything from composite material for the outside of jets to specialty metal products, wheel assemblies, avionics and components for the housing around jet engines.
“It ran the gamut,” he said. “We were very pleased with the number of suppliers.”
Alabama also had the largest delegation of about 80, which was led by Gov. Robert Bentley, Byrne said.
That attention from the state did pay off for both Auburn and Huntsville, who landed the relocation of firms at the show.
Stimpson not only met with executives from Airbus, the company building a $600 million final assembly line at Brookley Aeroplex, but also met with executives from existing local companies like VT Aerospace. VT Aerospace employs more than 1,200 at its aircraft maintenance and repair center at Brookley.
“Mobile, because of the Airbus project, has an incredible opportunity to become the world’s next major aerospace destination,” Stimpson said in a statement. “The next one to two years will be critical for recruiting suppliers and related businesses. These are high-paying jobs and our competitors are after them in full force. It’s vital that we make the most of this opportunity.”
Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl said the delegation made “some good contacts” at the show.
Carl said he made 12 cold calls during the show, looking to bring various companies to the city and county, including one, an existing domestic firm that machines specialty parts about a partnership with Austal.
Next year’s show, which will take place June 15-21 in Paris, is more important, Carl said, because Airbus will be preparing to roll the first plane off the assembly line.
Stimpson said the airshow’s schedule kept him pretty busy and he didn’t have much time for sightseeing. He left at 7 a.m. each day to catch a train from London to the show and then got done at 5 p.m.
One experience that could be considered sightseeing he said was a boat trip down the River Thames, with airshow and business officials.
Councilman Fred Richardson said the show was very positive and city officials made many contacts at the show. He credited the city’s relationship with Airbus as a big reason for the exposure.
“Mobile has been projected to a global stage,” Richardson said. “Mobile is known all over the world because of Airbus.”
Richardson said he had 15 meetings scheduled during the trip.
“I think we left a mark,” he said. “I don’t think there was a city in the world more known than Mobile.”
This year’s show featured 1,500 exhibitors and more than 860,000 square feet of exhibit space. There were more than 300 aerospace companies represented and 70 aircraft on display.