By DOTTY NIST
Walton County District 3 Commissioner Bill Imfeld has been designated to attend an aerospace industry forum in Hamburg, Germany on behalf of the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC).
The BCC voted on Sept. 24 to send one county commission member, to be selected by BCC Chair Kenneth Pridgen, to the forum. The decision took place at the regular commission meeting on that morning at the Walton County Courthouse. Shortly after the meeting, Pridgen informed Imfeld that he would be the designate.
During the meeting, Steve Jaeger, executive director for the Walton County Economic Development Alliance (EDA), provided the BCC with information on the forum.
Jaeger explainer that Airbus would be setting up an assembly line in Mobile which was expected to be completed in 2015. Airbus is a European aircraft manufacturer with subsidiaries on other continents, including some in the United States.
Jaeger said that suppliers for Airbus’ Mobile location would be clustered along I-10 to the east and west of that city.
Five Florida Panhandle counties, including Bay, Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Walton, have formed the Gulf Space Aerospace Coalition in response to the potential opportunity for new industry associated with needs of supplier companies for Airbus, Jaeger commented. Economic development leaders from the five counties are at the helm of the coalition, he told the commissioners.
Jaeger announced that the coalition would be hosting an International Aerospace Industry Forum for the first time during the second week of December in Hamburg, Germany, with elected officials and business leaders from the five counties to be in attendance, and representatives of the suppliers to also be present, to meet with Airbus.
The purpose of the forum, Jaeger stated, would be to provide an understanding of Airbus’ potential impact on the region, to provide insight on the needs of the supplier companies, including specialized training, and to help delegates become advocates in connection with Northwest Florida’s economic development efforts.
The first day of the forum, Dec. 8, is to be dedicated to presentations by European speakers on growth and expansion of the European aerospace industry, education and skills expectations for workers, factors in success for attracting aerospace suppliers, and international cultural protocol. The second day will be devoted to touring assembly and training facilities for the industry.
Jaeger requested that the BCC send representation to the forum to accompany representatives of the EDA. His suggestion was that Pridgen, Imfeld, and Larry Jones, Walton County administrator, attend on behalf of the county. It was noted that Imfeld’s district contains Mossy Head Industrial Park, which would be an attractive location for potential industry serving Airbus supplier companies.
Jaeger stated the cost for attending the form as $2,500 per person. Possibly in response to recent speculation in community in connection with the possibility of the county administrator and commissioners taking this trip to Germany, he emphasized that it would be a working forum and “not a Christmas shopping in Germany trip.”
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander questioned the number of people being proposed to attend. She suggested sending Imfeld due to the district he represents, and having him report on the forum to the other commissioners. She brought up the possibility of Walton County targeting the suppliers on its own apart from the forum. She also said she could foresee Okaloosa County attracting companies associated with the suppliers and suggested that Walton County try to attract workers from those companies as residents.
District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows was in agreement on not sending the number of people requested. She pointed out that the county had just gone through a tough budget process with many of the departments being required to do substantial belt tightening.
DeFuniak Springs resident J.B. Hillard also was of the opinion that it would be “extravagant” to pay the way for the administrator and two commissioners to attend the forum when the attendance of one person would suffice.
Jaeger pointed out that each county was allowed to send up to 10 representatives.
Imfeld noted that plans were to pay costs for attendance at the forum from $10,000 in unanticipated revenue recently obtained from the sale of timber cut from the Mossy Head Industrial Park. He stated that no ad valorem taxes would be required as funding.
Meadows then motioned to have one person attend on behalf of the BCC, with Pridgen to make the selection. The motion was approved unanimously.