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State suggests airport for new industry

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By Lou Elliott Jones

Enterprise Florida, Inc., the state’s economic development agency, has asked Williston officials to be one of three sites that pitch their airport and industrial land as the perfect location for a new jet trainer assembly facility.

Dubbed “Project Hawk,” the industrial prospect is seeking recommendations on a 20-acre location with a 220,000 square-foot industrial building – or one that could be constructed with a minimum of restrictions – and an airport with a 6,000-foot runway to accommodate tactical and C-130 (transport) aircraft. The facility would assemble and deliver one aircraft a month for the U.S. Air Force contractor. 

Enterprise Florida is agency charged with identifying and submitting Florida’s top three candidates for the business. It will pitch the sites at a Washington, D.C., meeting.

Pat O’Neal, Levy County economic development director, confirmed that Williston is one of the three sites being eyed by state officials. He said information has been provided by the state to Williston officials.

Casey Barnes, director of business development for Enterprise Florida, said in correspondence sent to local economic development officials that a preliminary analysis of locations that meet or largely met the required criteria found Williston Airport and adjacent facilities fit the contractor’s needs.

“The U.S. Air Force is considering the modernization of their aging fleet of T-38 Talon jet trainers under the Advanced Pilot Training Family of Systems (APT FoS) Program (also known as the T-X Program),” according to the accompanying materials. “A prominent option under review is the procurement of a fleet of new production, advanced jet trainer aircraft and related systems.”

In plain terms, the company is seeking a site suitable for structural assembly, final assembly, integration and testing of the jet trainers. The site would also have to accommodate related offices, warehouse, administration and services, painting, engine testing and fuel system testing, aircraft ground and flight testing, and support production and delivery of one aircraft per week.

“The site should be located in an area where the weather allows for tactical jet operations year round. Therefore, restricted visibility, high winds, and major weather events should be limited. 

Should the company decide to locate in Williston, it could bring a secondary influx of business as suppliers, may decide to locate nearby,” the packet details.

The accompanying material defines a suitable site as one that would “have an accessible, properly sized runway, must provide for adequate utilities, and must have access to appropriate transportation infrastructure. It is anticipated that large subassemblies will be shipped from other locations to a nearby deepwater port, then transferred to the selected site. “

In addition, it would help if the facility has a military or aerospace facility nearby and a strong, skilled workforce available. 

“Due to the highly competitive nature of this project, community respondents should submit only its best site for consideration, with the understanding that only sites that meet the minimum criteria (or sites that can be developed without prohibitive restrictions) will be evaluated.  Further, significant local and state assistance will be expected to win the deal. 

 Williston must have its packet ready and to the state agency by Nov. 16.