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Local Industry & Economic Development Leaders Call Paris Air Show a Success

Polk County international business development efforts considered a success at Paris Air Show.

Aviation and economic development representatives who attended the Paris Air Show in June called the trip a success, giving Polk County a chance to “showcase our unique aviation footprint in the state of Florida,” according to Jake Polumbo, a retired Air Force major general and founding partner of Two Blue Aces Consulting.

“We met with other countries and businesses interested in everything from increasing cargo and passenger travel to and from the Yucatán” to an aviation technology company from Europe interested in a strategic location in Central Florida, said Polumbo, vice chair of the Central Florida Development Council and a consultant with Florida Polytechnic University.

Javier Marin, director of business development and global trade at the CFDC, said leveraging recent and current projects demonstrates the county supports a thriving and diverse business ecosystem. “Conveying this message to the global business community is a requires time and patience, and we seem to be getting attention.”

This year alone, the CFDC has hosted companies from Brazil, Colombia, France, Saudi Arabia, Holland and Turkey, Marin said. “We are in the process of scheduling visits from Honduras and Mexico while we also seek partnership opportunities in Spain. All these prospects are developing because we have clarified our target industries (which now includes aviation and aerospace) and because we have embraced the idea of going beyond our borders.”

Global markets open opportunities for Polk County companies to become more profitable, Marin said, which fits into the CFDC’s business retention and expansion strategy because profitable companies hire more local talent and pay higher wages.

A Global Company Based In Lakeland

Draken International, based at Lakeland Linder International Airport and seen as the world’s leader in helping to train military pilots, attracted attention.

“We highlighted the fact that Draken International — the clear leader in the Adversary Air Support Industry here in the U.S. — is home-based right here in Lakeland,” Polumbo said. “We also discovered that a number of large Europe-based aviation and MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) companies are interested in partnering with this unique Central Florida company.”

Draken executives spoke with key leaders in the European market who either manufacture the jets that Draken now owns or supports them in the MRO areas, Polumbo said.

Draken — the world’s largest operator of ex-military aircraft — has a global reach, which gives the CFDC an “opportunity to attract maintenance repair and overhaul companies,” Marin said. As more companies announce they are expanding or opening here, area airports “have additional opportunities to attract business. MRO is getting stronger in Polk County. We will also have opportunities for manufacturers to be part of the growth of aviation in Polk and the region.”

From Draken’s perspective, the Paris Air Show is a great opportunity to reconnect with vendors and other companies it may be working with, as well as interact with potential customers, said John Baum, vice president of strategy and security for Draken.

“Through the aviation and aerospace initiatives, you see the really heavy hitters like Lockheed Martin and Boeing, two big companies with connections in Central Florida, and a growing company like Draken breaking the gap, introducing Central Florida as a gateway to aviation,” Baum said. “Because of our connectivity here in Central Florida, we are able to have a lot of discussions and showcase how well Polk County has done for us.”

He said Draken’s biggest focus at the Paris Air Show “was continuing to grow our support basis because we have new airplanes.”

Partners in Economic Development

Being partners with the CFDC — which shared a booth with Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development agency — helps Draken increase their footprint.

“Having that connectivity with the CFDC and Enterprise Florida, we had a home base, setting up meetings, reconnecting with colleagues, without fully manning a booth. But we still have a place to say ‘meet us at the booth’ and space to meet or have coffee. We saved money and we’re part of a network. They are other people thinking of your best interest.”

In addition, “Javier understands what Draken does as a business,” Baum said. “He meets with someone new every 20 minutes and he has us in mind, he can connect the dots. It’s a force multiplier from an activity standpoint. He does a great job in connecting us with people we might not have had an opportunity to interact with, so he expands Draken’s business model.”

Along with working with Draken, the CFDC was able to promote SunTrax and local institutions of higher learning that offer degrees and certificates in technology and aviation. Budding relationships could lead to future businesses here.

“That’s more work in Lakeland, more jobs, more people to hire,” said Sean Malott, president and CEO of the CFDC. “Draken is working with governments around the world, which creates challenges, like bringing those planes to market. The CFDC can use its government connections to help.”

Polumbo says it’s important for local economic development teams to attend such events.

“It permits Polk County the opportunity to build a better relationship with Enterprise Florida and other cities in the state that want to take advantage of our talent pool and training programs,” he said. “It also allows us to showcase our unique universities like Florida Polytechnic, and Southeastern, plus our terrific Polk State College.”

All three universities are involved in aviation, whether providing research for Draken (Florida Poly) or offering classes for students to obtain their pilots license or certifications in aviation-related fields.

Marin said Polk County can “no longer rely on third parties to tell our story, so we go to these events to convey our message and invite company representatives to visit Polk County and find for themselves how they can be successful right here. … In a sense, we are proactively seeking opportunities and defining our own path to economic development.”

For additional information about this topic or how to become a partner with the Central Florida Development Council, please contact Lindsay Zimmerman at lindsay@cfdc.org.