CRESTVIEW — Relationships that county officials and business leaders recently forged in Hamburg, Germany laid the foundation for growth at Bob Sikes Airport and its Industrial Air Park, Okaloosa County Commissioner and Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Wayne Harris said.
"It was the greatest thing we did in a long, long time," he said.
Representatives of 26 Northwest Florida counties, cities, government agencies and private industries gathered in Hamburg in December to promote the region as fertile turf to grow support services and suppliers for the Airbus plant coming to Mobile, Ala.
One of the group's main goals was to establish rapport with the company that will soon have a major impact on the region's economy, Harris said.
Okaloosa County had the second-highest representation, with 11 of the 35 regional delegates, Economic Development Council Director Nathan Sparks said during the chamber's Thursday Airport Committee meeting.
Comparing the other entities' presentations, it was evident that Bob Sikes Airport is better positioned than neighboring communities to immediately begin attracting small- to medium-sized businesses that will serve Airbus, officials said.
"We're the only one prepared to put manufacturing or aerospace out there," Harris said.
With the Southeast already attracting aviation industry, Sparks said Florida was recently listed by Price Waterhouse as the most attractive state for aviation manufacturing.
Florida, by beating out traditional aviation industry states Texas, Washington, Michigan and Ohio, is on the industry's radar as it expands to meet expected aircraft demand.
"We were the only county that had private industry with us" at the conference, Sparks said.
High-ranking Airbus officials' high-level reception and deferential treatment to the Northwest Florida contingent indicates Airbus' interest in the region, Harris said.
"They gave us the 100-dollar tour," Harris said. "It proved to me they're serious about what we're trying to do."
"I'm very encouraged about our future, but it's not going to come easily," Sparks said, adding the relationships incubated in Hamburg now must be cultivated and molded over the coming years.
"It leads me to believe you ain't going to get it this year, you ain't going to get it next year, you may not get it in five years, but you're going to get it," Harris said, referring to a significant share of the Airbus supply business.