Shop could be first of many: A family owned aviation mechanic shop has opened in the city, bringing with it the hopes of economic revitalization

July 13, 2007

Jul. 12--No one forced Raul Cruz-Alvarez Jr. to base his business in Opa-locka's downtown. He received no kickback, no money from the county, no tax break from the city.

Still, Cruz-Alvarez decided he would settle his family aviation repair business in the shadows of a monstrous old water plant and a railroad. He considered opening up shop in the Carolinas or in Broward County but, he said, he saw more potential in a city infamous for its lack of jobs and high crime rates.

"It's good to be close to the Opa-locka Airport but there's a tremendous amount of opportunity to do things here that we couldn't do anywhere else," Cruz-Alvarez said. "Here we have a lot of untapped talent."

So when Integrated Drive Systems opened Saturday in an old bakery on Ali-Baba Avenue, Cruz-Alvarez met two goals.

There was a personal fulfillment of working hard and starting a new, potentially profitable business. For city officials, it was partial quench for a city thirsty for new, sustainable economic development.

Renovating the site alone cost more than $400,000.

"A lot of blood, sweat and tears has gone into this place," Cruz-Alvarez said. "So, we're going to be here to stay."

This is just one step in a growing, more concentrated effort to bring business to Opa-locka, said Octavian Spanner, the city's director of community development.

"If we had four or five businesses like this one in the city, it would do wonders for us," he said.

In its simplest terms, Integrated Drive Systems acts as a mechanic for commercial aircraft. It repairs broken airplane batteries, airplane generators and other electrical appliances for clients such as FedEx and Spirit Airlines.

Broken parts are delivered, then repaired on site at 1094 Ali Babe Ave. Deliveries from that location were more of the flour and sugar variety; the building housed a bakery up until about two years ago, said Mayor Joseph Kelley. Now, Kelley said, the building's look has changed dramatically. The front office has a chandelier, the work stations in the back are slick and new, with all forms of equipment.

As Kelley and commissioners Rose Tydus and Gail Miller toured the new facility, Cruz-Alvarez said he planned on creating partnerships with local high schools to teach them about careers in aviation repair.

He is also trying, he said, to create apprenticeships at George T. Baker Aviation School and at Florida Memorial University to ensure that locals are able to get jobs in their community.

Entry-level jobs at the company will start at $8 an hour and mechanics can earn up to $45 an hour. By 2012, Cruz-Alvarez said, the company expects to have 40 employees, "doing state-of-the-art type jobs in Opa-locka, as opposed to the service type."

"I really like the sound of that," Kelley said. "Here we have a businessman who is willing to use his knowledge to train and educate others in our community as a part of his business plan. This is the type of business we want."

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