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North Bay make moves to grow aerospace business

North Bay is promoting its airport as a “gateway to opportunity.
“We're finalizing the design for the (business park) infrastructure and hopefully that project will get underway this summer,” says Jack Garland Airport manager Jack Santerre.

North Bay is promoting its airport as a “gateway to opportunity.”

The city is firing up a marketing campaign and taking flight on trade missions to invite the North American aviation and aerospace industry to consider setting up shop at Jack Garland Airport.

Armed with newly resurfaced 10,000-foot (3,050-metre) runway, the city and airport administration are formulating a business attraction strategy built around plans for an expansive industrial park that’s taking shape this year.

“We’re looking at growing and expanding aerospace and aviation components, so there are a number of fronts that we’re looking at,” said airport manager Jack Santerre.

Jack Garland’s Aerospace Park is already home to Voyageur Airways, a charter and maintenance company, and Bombardier Aerospace’s assembly plant for its Canadair 415 waterbomber.

Both companies are housed inside former military hangars. Canadore College’s School of Aviation campus is on the airport grounds.

Currently, there is only 20 acres of available fully-serviced land split on the east and west sides of the airport.

But that will change this upcoming construction season as ground is broken for a proposed Airport Industrial Business Park.

About 255 acres (103 hectares) of vacant land with airside access will be made available for aviation companies. A larger 373-acre parcel (151 hectares) is earmarked for groundside access for nonaviation-related businesses.

“We’re finalizing the design for the infrastructure and hopefully that project will get underway this summer,” said Santerre. “In the meantime, we have lots that are serviced that we can make happen.”

Plans are also on the books for taxiway upgrades and a municipal road extension across the airport’s north side to directly connect with Highway 11.

They’ll be an incentive package for incoming companies that includes property tax refunds and breaks on municipal development and landfill charges. A city review team is being made ready to fast-track development proposals.

With existing industrial space maxed out in North Bay, the city’s economic development manager Rick Evans said the prospects for the airport are “coming hot and heavy.”

The airport board has been using a recentlycompleted consultants’ study as a guide to identify additional opportunities to pursue in the aerospace sector.

“As the study was going along, the moment the consultants identified something of interest, we went after it right away,” said Evans.

He said the city is receptive to “niche” aircraft manufacturing opportunites and supply chain business.

Last year, Evans’ eyes were opened on what the possibilities are while touring the aircraft composites lab at Wichita State University.

The university has forged a partnership with major players like Spirit AeroSystems, something North Bay wouldn’t mind replicating.

“Spirit is to aerospace what Magna is to automotive.”

In February, Santerre headed out to Seattle on an “exploratory” provincial trade mission to tour Boeing’s Everett assembly plant and to meet with various industry suppliers.

Evans said it’s unrealistic for North Bay to pursue a major commercial jet manufacturing plant, since it would overwhelm the local labour market.

But there are plenty of smaller opportunities to attract aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul operations.

With manufacturers like Calgary’s Viking Air bringing the heritage Twin Otter aircraft back into production, Evans said North Bay can be a good fit as an assembly point for vintage or specialty aircraft.

“When you look at the 415 waterbomber, it isn’t hard to envision a Buffalo or a Beaver (being manufactured in North Bay)”

Last year, the city gained notoriety in the aviation press for its bold pursuit of Dornier Seaplane. Although it lost out to Montreal in its bid to secure the assembly plant for the company’s Seastar amphibious aircraft, the media exposure was great for the city.

Evans said the ongoing relationship with Dornier CEO Joe Walker has generated more business leads for the city to chase.

“He put us into the Extra project,” said Evans, of the European high performace aircraft manufacturer that eventually chose Montrose, Colorado, last July as its North American production centre.

“But at least, we got in the competition and that’s all you can hope for.” (website for Jack Garland Airport)

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