Ready for takeoff?

Region looks to capitalize on ‘aviation cluster’
Oct. 05, 2013 @ 03:00 PM

Could the Triad’s aviation sector become the type of industrial engine that textile and furniture manufacturing used to be in the region?
Representatives of a new coalition of businesses, economic development organizations, community colleges and local governments hope so.
“Aviation Thrives Here,” a marketing initiative launched in August, seeks to spotlight the aviation industry as an economic bright spot for the Triad.
The goal is to raise awareness of the industry as an economic driver and showcase job opportunities within the sector. There are at least 29 aviation companies in the Triad. The best-known are arguably those at Piedmont Triad International Airport, including Timco Aviation Services, Honda Aircraft Co. a Cessna Citation facility and a FedEx cargo hub.
“The region’s aviation cluster is growing impressively and continues to create more and more jobs while increasing our tax base. The industry is incredibly important for High Point and our neighboring communities,” said Loren Hill, president of the High Point Economic Development Corp.
“Timco and HondaJet are major employers on the grounds of Piedmont Triad International Airport, which is less than one mile from the High Point city limits. They and a host of other companies located around the region provide quality jobs for High Pointers and other Triad residents.”
As an example of the vitality of the sector and its promise for future growth, Hill said the EDC last week hosted an internationally based aerospace company, which is considering High Point for its first U.S. facility.
In addition, Timco is considering a major expansion at its airport location, where it maintains and repairs commercial airliners and other types of aircraft. The company is poised to build two new hangars and add 400 jobs to its existing work force of about 1,500, but has not yet announced whether it will move forward with the expansion.
Honda Aircraft later this month will open a new maintenance facility at its airport location, where it employs about 800 people at its headquarters, which includes manufacturing and research-and-development functions.
“It’s very important to all of us, I think — especially with the continued growth potential that the aviation cluster has from an economic development standpoint — to do everything we can to make sure those companies have the work force they need,” said Deborah Hooper, president of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, which is helping spearhead the marketing initiative.
Guilford Technical Community College is increasing enrollment and faculty positions in its aviation-related programs to meet growing demand for mechanics and other types of technicians that work on aircraft, said GTCC President Randy Parker.
“Within the last year, we’ve had four aviation manufacturers that were interested in coming to our region, and one of the things I spoke with them about was our ability to meet their needs,” Parker said.
The college’s main aviation-related degree programs are Aviation Systems Technology and Aviation Electronics Technology.
“Pretty much anything in an airplane that needs to be fixed, we have taught some component of it,” Parker said. “We do a little bit of everything — painting, carpentry, anything that goes on in an aircraft.”
A grant it received this year will allow GTCC to expand the number of students in its aviation programs each year from 75 to 100.
“Education will grow aviation employment and, ultimately, the regional economy. A trained work force is the key,” said Kip Blakely, Timco’s vice president of industry and government relations. “When we rely on homegrown talent, they’re more likely to stay with us and develop, and that’s what we’re looking for.”