State awards Charlotte County $1.7 million grant for aviation training
Jennifer Beeson, Fort Myers News-Press
Charlotte County has received another major Florida Job Growth Grant from the state.
This time the grant will be used to provide aviation training at the Punta Gorda Airport, expected to begin in early 2020.
The $1.7 million grant from the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity, announced at the end of December, will create training for Aviation Airframe and Powerplant Mechanics (known as A&P).
Last year, Charlotte County received a grant for $800,000 to help complete its $8 million Piper Road Extension project, which was designed to drive growth near Punta Gorda Interstate Airport Park and create more than 1,400 new jobs.
The grant will not only help Charlotte County’s job growth but will also help diversify the economy in Southwest Florida.
“To add aviation to our economy all up and down Southwest Florida is diversifying everything,” said Dave Gammons, interim director at Charlotte County Economic Development Office. “We are branching out and offering much different job opportunities that might not be here already and if they are here, then we will certainly be expanding that job base.”
The program is expected to drive high-paying, high-skilled jobs to the county and fuel economic growth which will help surrounding counties in Southwest Florida that rely heavily on industries focused on tourism and hospitality.
“In general, in Southwest Florida this an important sector because it helps to diversify our economy because we are so heavily dominated by industries that reflect our strengths in retirement and tourism,” said Christopher Westley, a Florida Gulf Coast University professor of economics and director for its Regional Economic Research Institute.
“These are very seasonal industries that also tend to really overheat when the economy is strong and tend to over-correct when we fall into a recession.”
More stable employment opportunities will help to balance out those industries and also provide more career options for students.
“We hope to attract kids and adults from all over Southwest Florida to come and want to be trained to do these things,” Gammons said. “I think it is going to have a major impact from that standpoint and for employers who are looking for quality workforce when they are done and have their certificate in hand.”
The A&P certification course will be offered through Charlotte Technical College and will award graduates with an FAA mechanic license with airframe and powerplant ratings.
The technical school anticipates 50 students will be trained in its initial enrollment session, with that number increasing to 100 for the following session.
The 2,250-hour curriculum will focus on aircraft structures, power plants, avionics, system design, testing and inspection.
Within a 50-mile radius of Charlotte County, nearly 150 firms are engaged in aviation and aerospace manufacturing and transportation, but the industry is experiencing a shortage of qualified personnel.
“We are excited about the energy it creates here in Charlotte County,” Gammons said. “We’ve got a lot of potential aviation companies that are looking to come here and to have an A&P program just solidifies one of the reasons for them to come here.”