Written by Jim Little at the Pensacola News Journal
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a $4.8 million grant for the Pensacola International Airport on Wednesday — the final piece of the $210 million project to expand the ST Engineering campus at the airport.
The expansion project, which calls for building three more hangars and office space for ST Engineering, is expected to bring more than 1,300 jobs to the airport.
ST Engineering opened its first maintenance, repair and overhaul, or MRO, hangar at the Pensacola airport in June 2018. That hangar is expected to employ 400 people when operating at full capacity, putting the number of jobs at the entire facility at more than 1,700 people. At last count in January, ST Engineer had 163 employees at the airport.
DeSantis said the ST Engineering expansion would have an impact on the economy of the entire region and would not have happened without many people coming together to support it.
"Significant investments have been made by the private sector here in Northwest Florida, by our state Department of Transportation, by Escambia County and the city of Pensacola, by Triumph Gulf Coast and many others," DeSantis said. "And so, we appreciate the collaborative nature of these initiatives, and I think that this is really going to help drive some good things, not only in Escambia but really throughout the region."
In total, about $175 million in public money, through federal and state grants and direct contributions from local governments, has been pledged to expand the MRO campus at the airport. ST Engineering has also pledged another $35 million to the total $210 million project.
The announcement of the $4.8 million grant from the Florida Job Growth Fund on Wednesday marked the final step of the city's long effort to get the project fully funded.
Former Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward was able to get about $118 million committed to funding the project, which included ST Engineering's own $35 million commitment.
In the first months of Robinson's administration in 2019, the mayor scrambled to find the remaining $92 million in time to begin construction on the project and not jeopardize losing already committed funding.
Robinson was largely successful, obtaining additional grants from the state on top of the city receiving a federal grant for the project applied for under Hayward's administration. Robinson also convinced Triumph Gulf Coast, an economic development board charged with distributing $1.5 billion from the settlement with BP over the 2010 oil spill, to increase its grant award for the project from $56 million to $66 million.
By February 2019, Robinson had lined up funding for all but the last $4.8 million of the project, though the City Council pledged the city would be responsible for the last bit of funding if no other source could be found.
Robinson thanked the City Council on Wednesday after the governor's announcement for the "leap of faith" and for trusting him that the last piece of funding would be found.
"We told the City Council that our expectation was that somehow we're going to figure out how to do this, whether it was going to be the state of Florida or the federal government, we're going after both," Robinson said. "We've been working diligently since that time to do this. We did not expect to have it happen this soon."
DeSantis is the second Florida governor to commit state funds to the project. The project had already received $14 million from the same fund under former Gov. Rick Scott.
Robinson said two governors committing funds is a vote of confidence in the project.
"I think it shows what this project means and what it can mean to Northwest Florida," Robinson said. "We are participating now in the aviation sector and are going to be a player in it."
Robinson and Escambia County Commissioner Robert Bender just returned from a trip to Singapore, where ST Engineering is based. The mayor said he spoke with officials there about expanding the workforce training program in Pensacola to fill the new jobs.
"We're trying to talk with Triumph about what we can do and maybe expand that into aviation (training)," Robinson said. "And from that standpoint, ST is not scared of the clawbacks. They have to educate the population to get them ready for these jobs. And again, they're planning to educate twice as many people as the jobs they need. So that means there will be other opportunities for other companies and other things to happen here in Northwest Florida."
Bender said the ST Engineering project is setting up Pensacola for future growth.
"We were given a statistic that they anticipate air travel to double in the next 15 to 20 years," Bender said. "And as that occurs, that means more airplanes, more overhaul. So we're entering the market at the right time to have a long prosperous run in this industry."
DeSantis said the grant to the Pensacola project was the latest boost to Florida's growing aviation and aerospace industry, touting projects like expanding Melbourne Airport, a new United Airlines maintenance facility in Tampa and aerospace giants like Boeing and Lockheed basing missile and rocket programs in the state.
"I think that if you look around the country, Florida is doing more aviation and aerospace than anybody and we've got great momentum," Robinson said. "And then certainly here (in Pensacola) is a great example."
Jim Little can be reached at email@example.com and 850-208-9827. Link to Story.
ST Engineering - $35 million
Florida Legislature - $3 million
Governor's Job Growth fund under Gov. Rick Scott - $14 million
Governor's Job Growth fund under Gov. Ron DeSantis - $4.8 million
Florida Department of Transportation - $45 million
Escambia County - $15 million
City of Pensacola - $15 million
U.S. Economic Development Administration - $12.2 million
Triumph Gulf Coast - $66 million
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