Western Global Airlines’ recent announcement that it will establish an aircraft maintenance facility at Shreveport Regional Airport is poised to create new employment opportunities in northwest Louisiana. Regional officials also hope the project will jump-start an aviation expansion in a corner of the state with a long tradition of success in the aerospace industry.
Western Global provides service to more than 300 airports in 115 nations. The cargo freight carrier selected Shreveport as a conveniently located and well-qualified hub for maintaining its fleet of 16 Boeing 747 and McDonnell Douglas MD-11 wide-body freighter aircraft.
Based in Estero, Florida, near Fort Myers, Western Global plans to create 170 new direct jobs with an average annual salary of more than $45,200, plus benefits. In addition, Louisiana Economic Development estimates the project will result in 308 new indirect jobs, for a total of more than 475 new jobs in northwest Louisiana.
“We’re excited to be bringing a company with the global reach of Western Global Airlines to Shreveport, where this project will boost the regional economy and provide compelling new career opportunities for our talented workforce,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said in announcing the project last month.
The project centers around the 152,000-square-foot Hangar 40 at Shreveport Regional Airport, previously leased by ExpressJet Airlines. The space opened up when ExpressJet announced in late 2016 that it would close some maintenance centers in the face of a consolidating commercial airline industry. ExpressJet moved its Shreveport operations to Knoxville, Tennessee, and retained a smaller maintenance center in Baton Rouge.
Western Global will lease the hangar from the Shreveport Airport Authority and make a capital investment of $3 million for tooling and equipment to support the space. President Scott Martinez of the North Louisiana Economic Partnership says the city of Shreveport should be lauded for financing the original construction of the hangar. “That’s proven to be a wise investment because the hangar didn’t stay vacant long,” Martinez says. “It’s an attractive real estate asset.”
To secure the project, the state of Louisiana offered the company a competitive incentive package that includes a $1 million performance-based grant to offset the cost of improvements to Hangar 40.
In addition to the incentives and hangar space, Martinez says Southern University at Shreveport’s Aviation Maintenance Technology programs also played a role in attracting the company to the site. “Having that pipeline of talent coming out of that program was very advantageous,” he says.
Martinez says an additional factor in attracting the company was that Shreveport is the only AEROready-certified community in Louisiana. The third-party certification validates the property as ready for the aerospace industry, while also ensuring there is a supply of skilled labor and opportunity and that necessary infrastructure is in place — with the goal of reducing potential risk for aerospace companies.
The assessment was funded by the electric utility Southwestern Electric Power, which saw it as a valuable tool that could attract industry to the area, Martinez says. “They had seen that certification be leveraged in other states for aviation-related economic development projects,” he says.
Western Global began recruiting experienced and certified aircraft technicians when its lease with the Shreveport Airport Authority went into effect on May 10, and the company says it plans to hire an initial 50 employees this year. During the next decade, Western Global will ramp up employment to 170 personnel, which when combined with newly created indirect jobs could have a considerable impact on the region’s economy.
“Jobs in this sector generally pay above the average median income in the Shreveport-Bossier MSA,” Martinez says. “If you look at this sector nationwide, aviation-related jobs tend to be at the higher end of wages when it comes to blue-collar jobs. He says Southern University’s local aviation programs are ready to meet that demand. “That has really been a driver historically and I think will be driver in the future as far as us being successful in locating aviation-related projects,” he says.
Several prospects were evaluated by the Shreveport Airport Authority in the past year before the selection of Western Global. Martinez says that gives regional officials confidence moving forward on the possibility of leveraging the AEROready certification, as well as the region’s infrastructure and skilled workforce, to attract additional aviation-related projects.
“We’ve shown property at the airport to multiple projects in the last five years,” he says. “I think we’ll continue to market heavily in that particular sector. It was borne out moving through the certification process that we have some assets that make us attractive to aviation-related projects.”
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