Early in 2011, students at Florida State College at Jacksonville can start learning how to paint aircraft, adding the missing piece to maintenance and overhaul training offered in the area. School and city officials ceremonially broke ground for a new coating facility at Cecil Field today, marking the beginning of the $20 million project that should be completed by the end of next year.
Such education is an important part of attracting businesses to the area, said Steve Grossman, who two weeks ago took over as executive director of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, which is splitting the project’s cost with the school.
“They really are looking at our education institutions, how they feed their business,” Grossman said.
The groundbreaking came 10 years after the Navy turned Cecil Naval Air Station over to civilian control as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process.
Since 1999, the city and the Aviation Authority have worked on luring businesses to rechristened Cecil Commerce Center, particularly focusing on aviation-related, logistics and manufacturing operations.
The two entities control different parts of the property: 11 mostly aviation-related businesses lease space on the authority-owned portion near the runways, while Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations and FSCJ have set up shop on the city side of the facility.
The new coatings facility, which the college and authority began working on toward the end of 2006, will help attract more aviation-related companies, officials hope.
“It completes our portfolio of aircraft training programs,” said Margarita Cabral-Maly, president of FSCJ’s Kent Campus, which oversees the Cecil Center.
The new program complements training programs in power plant and airframe maintenance, air traffic controlling, flying and aviation management.
Students at the facility will take courses in things like aircraft corrosion, paint removal systems and paint application.
The capstone of the program will be hands-on work with Flightstar Aircraft Services, which will operate the facility.
“It’s something customers have been asking for,” said Matt Eaton, the company’s vice president for corporate development. Right now, full stripping and painting jobs have to be outsourced.
The city has long said the aviation industry is one of the key areas it focuses its economic development activities on. Providing such training, Cabral-Maly said, helps the city attract such businesses.
“It’s really central to the economic development of the region,” she said. “We’re pretty tuned into everything the [Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce] is trying to promote.”