When birds of a feather...
Aviation and technology parks are talent magnets for the region, providing the
infrastructure for multiple technology clusters


The Fort Walton Beach Commerce and Technology Park is one of the oldest
aerospace parks in the Gulf Coast I-10 region.

Opened in 1964, the technology park today 20 businesses with ties to aerospace
and aviation, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and more. Their work
is tied to nearby Eglin Air Force Base, Hurlburt Field, and other military installations
close by. It’s an example of a cluster, when businesses, often competitors, collect in
the same location.

“Clusters are the Holy Grail of economic development,” said Nathan Sparks,
executive director of the Economic Development Council in Okaloosa County, Fla.

The Fort Walton Beach park is just one of many aerospace and technology parks
that have developed across the region between Northwest Florida to New Orleans.

Three parks each has more than 3,000 acres, but there are others with more than
1,000 acres. Some are long-established pillars of their communities, but others have
developed more recently as new opportunities, including those afforded by the
opening of an Airbus assembly plant in Mobile, Ala., have arisen.

Alabama, Mississippi and Northwest Florida all have site certification programs
designed to make it easier to companies to set up operations at “shovel-ready”
locations across the region.

Two NASA facilities and the region’s nearly a dozen major military bases are magnets
for companies that want to do business with the federal agencies. Some companies
have multiple sites in the region.

A number of parks have developed outside of those federal installations to make it
easier for companies to do business with the federal government agencies.

But there are other lures for clusters. Many new aerospace and technology park
developments are close to existing airports. The region’s 40 commercial and general
aviation airports are by their very nature lures for aviation businesses as well as
military operations.

But a sizeable company can also serve as a magnet, notably for bringing in
suppliers. Airbus, for example, since the announcement that it would build a final
assembly line in Mobile, has drawn some two dozen companies to the Mobile
Aeroplex.

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