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TCRA's Aerospace Park is ready to go

September 7th, 2015 10:00 am by Hank Hayes

TCRA's Aerospace Park is ready to go

This aerial image shows the outlined area within Tri-Cities Regional Airport's Aerospace Park has enough land for a manufacturer to create an operation from scratch. TCRA photo.

BLOUNTVILLE — The southside airfield at the Tri-Cities Regional Airport is like someone ready for a night on the town — it’s all dressed up and ready to go.

TCRA has invested $23 million in its “Aerospace Park” with federal, state and airport funds. All of that money did site grading, and created taxiways, access roads and utilities. It has an existing five-acre concrete apron that can accommodate large aircraft. The 21-acre site is certified “for immediate development” by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

All it needs now are some economic dance partners.

Mark Canty, TCRA’s director of Trade and Business Development, is a point man recruiting businesses in the so-called “maintenance, repair and overhaul” (MRO) industry sector and aerospace businesses.

Aerospace Park is partnering with the Northeast Tennessee Aviation Education Initiative, a collaboration between Bell Helicopter and Northeast State to train students and help them find jobs here. It is also being marketed by the NETWORKS Sullivan Partnership and the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

“When we worked on our target industry analysis with Next Move Group and Troy University last year, aerospace jumped out at everyone as an obvious target,” said NETWORKS CEO Clay Walker. “We have an incredibly strong existing (aerospace) cluster, virtually no union presence which is a high priority in that sector, and then, in addition to the RCAM (Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing), Northeast State added its aviation initiative. Then you throw in the impressive team at the airport and all the attributes of Aerospace Park and you don’t have to be the sharpest knife in the drawer to know that we need to be giving this sector serious attention and focus.”

TCRA let those partners know it is serious about bringing jobs to Aerospace Park by plugging an extra $68,000 into its budget for the current fiscal year for airport business development.

Previously, the site was being marketed as “Aviation Park,” but the name switch to Aerospace Park was made earlier this year, said Canty.

“After doing a lot of research on other websites, aviation seemed to be more about the act of flying and described more of a hobby activity,” Canty explained. “Aerospace is the sector itself and the fact that we are recruiting industry, aerospace was a more appropriate term for that than aviation.”

The global MRO market is expected to grow from $56.8 billion to $84.7 billion by 2022, according to ICF International, a Virginia-based provider of consulting services and technology solutions to government and commercial clients.

Also within the aerospace sector are engine, air frame, electronics and accessories manufacturers. A TCRA presentation suggests commercial jet makers are looking to create nearly 40,000 next generation airplanes by 2034 to replace older aircraft.

Industry names who have set up shop in the Southeast U.S. include Bell Helicopter, which has a manufacturing operation in Piney Flats. Then there’s Cessna, Honda Jet, Boeing, Cirrus Aircraft, Airbus, Gulfstream and G.E. Aviation.

The TCRA presentation also stresses the Southeast U.S. is rivaling Singapore as “two areas of major investment” in aerospace manufacturing.

As to why the Southeast U.S. is picking up steam in aerospace development, Aviation Week quoted a consultant who said non-U.S. companies want to be close to their customers in the U.S. Firms can also build their operation with a “clean sheet” and with non-union labor, the publication added.

TCRA, according to Canty, is courting any aerospace firm that needs direct runway access and land.

“Planes could fly in, get serviced and fly out,” he explained. “If we found one company large enough and needed that entire parcel, that would be great ... (but) more realistic is finding multiple MROs to occupy the space.”

The Aerospace Park master plan also calls for an expansion of the existing southside Air Cargo Center, which was left mostly empty when cargo businesses exited TCRA.

Canty, meanwhile, has been staffing aerospace shows with Walker and TCRA Executive Director Patrick Wilson to get the word out about TCRA. Walker said they have obtained editorial content in site selection magazines and are buying print ads in aviation/aerospace publications.

“The marketing and recruitment team at Tri-Cities Regional Airport is off the charts in terms of professionalism, efficiency, and persistence,” Walker observed. “They have their own great program, so, as the county’s economic development organization, it is critical that we coordinate our efforts with theirs. We’ve done that and along the way established a great working relationship as well as some friendships. I see this collaboration already making headway in reaching our desired audience and I know it will result in great wins soon and in the long term.”

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