As the aviation industry continues to grow worldwide, the Central Florida Development Council is excited to formalize the work of aviation advocates and professionals from across the county through the forming of a committee devoted to growing Polk County’s aviation impact.
The new committee, chaired by Lakeland Linder International Airport Director Gene Conrad, has a clear objective: To develop “an inclusive strategy to leverage our aviation businesses,” said Javier Marin, CFDC’s director of business development and global trade.
The CFDC formed the aviation committee after supporting a countywide group that met informally for a year. The committee’s members represent airport managers, aviation and aerospace professionals, business and education. They are meeting bi-monthly for now.
“We talk about what’s going on, share information,” Conrad said. He praised the CFDC for providing the structure and support the aviation community needs to tell its story to the world, which will help lure more companies to Polk County and Central Florida.
“In the 10 years I’ve been here, this is the most excited I’ve been,” said Conrad, who has volunteered at the Oshkosh, Wisconsin, air show — the largest in the nation — for 32 years.
“Actual attention is being placed on aerospace and aviation in our county. That didn’t exist until the last four or five years.”
Conrad said that the four airports in Polk County have “all put in a lot of time and effort to improve our facilities and infrastructure to be prepared for new opportunities coming our way. People are now seeing the fruits of our collective labor. We can help bring new economic development here.”
Polk airports collectively have over $850 million in annual economic impact and each airport has its own niche:
- Lakeland Linder International Airport, home to NOAA’s Hurricane Hunters, Draken International, cargo operations and the Central Florida Aerospace Academy.
- Winter Haven Gilbert Airport, an important hub for training pilots and the location of Jack Brown’s Seaplane base.
- Bartow Municipal Airport, home to a growing industrial park.
- Lake Wales Municipal Airport, a hub for aviation sports in Polk County.
“Given that Florida is already a leading state for aviation, we want to make sure that we, in Polk County, leverage our four airports to increase their capacity in and around their service area,” Marin said. “We are poised to respond to the growing needs of aviation manufacturers and service providers. We are confident in our future success because of our community assets and the fact that each of our airports has its own niche.”
The new committee will target how best to market aviation. “We will be more effective collectively than by ourselves,” he said. “This committee will bring attention back to an important sector.”
The aviation industry continues growing world-wide for cargo, passenger and recreational purposes, Marin said. Polk County encompasses all of those.
“In a nutshell, we already have the aviation infrastructure, the educated workforce and a fertile business environment to grow a strong aviation/aerospace cluster in Polk County and the region,” Marin said. “We can assist businesses in the industry with relocation opportunities, such as ‘soft landing,’ to help them navigate the process of identifying a site, hiring their workforce, identifying potential incentives and navigating the local permitting environment. We work in partnership with local, state, and federal agencies to support business relocations, expansions, and import/export opportunities.”
Conrad said the new committee has a lot of heavy lifting to do, but it will be worth it because members see a lot of opportunity.
“As we better define how we want to represent ourselves to the aviation world, we will be that much better and effective at driving economic development,” he said. “It will take us a while to mature, to find our way, to figure out how best to sell ourselves, but at least we’ve started.”