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A new aircraft maintenance facility is expected to bring 400 jobs to Pensacola.

On Friday, the City of Pensacola broke ground on a massive new $46 million aerospace facility at Pensacola International Airport.

The facility will be home to VT Mobile Aerospace Engineering, which will expand its international aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) business to Pensacola. VT MAE has operated out of Mobile’s Brookley Aeroplex since 1991.

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A rendering of the new $46 million facility at Pensacola International Airport (City of Pensacola/Special to The Pulse)

“This is a tremendous project,” said Hayward. “This has been a work in progress for a few years…when you’re working with a multinational corporation there’s a lot of moving parts to this.”

Under the terms of the public-private partnership, city officials are charged with building the 173,000 square foot facility that will rise 80 feet above the airport. The project is funded by a combination of city, county, state, and VT MAE dollars on 18 acres of city-owned Pensacola International Airport property. The city will then lease the facility to VT MAE for a 30-year term.

According to officials, the new facility is expected to bring 400 jobs to the city, paying between $30,000 and $58,000 annually.

Industry and government officials have high hopes that much of the workforce at the new facility will be born from the local area.

“Our students have had to leave this area upon graduating when they would much rather stay,” said outgoing University of West Florida president Judy Bense. “This facility provides an opportunity to keep our educated citizens here in Florida.”

Bense added that UWF is actively looking into setting up an education pipeline for aerospace-related career fields.

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Officials hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the $46 million VT MAE facility at Pensacola International Airport. (Drew Buchanan/The Pulse)

Today’s jubilance didn’t come easy, however. The groundbreaking marks the end of a long-fought, multi-year effort by the Hayward administration to bring the company to Pensacola.

Hayward first began discussions with the company in 2013, at one point even traveling to Singapore to meet with company executives. After continuing negotiations for several months, VT officials joined him in February 2014 to announce the company’s Pensacola expansion. At the time, city officials said the facility would be operational by 2016, but when that date came and went, some began to question whether the project was still happening.

City officials cited design changes and funding shortfalls for the year-long delay. Originally priced at $37 million, the building had to be redesigned to accommodate larger aircraft, which pushed the cost up.

Pensacola mayor Ashton Hayward with VT Systems CEO John Coburn in 2014. (City of Pensacola/Special to The Pulse)

Pensacola mayor Ashton Hayward with VT Systems CEO John Coburn in 2014. (City of Pensacola/Special to The Pulse)

Once completed,  the facility and maintenance hangar will be able to house a variety of aircraft — including multiple Boeing 757s or 777s or Airbus’ new A320 airliner.

“One of the main attractions for VT MAE being here was because they believed there was a solid workforce, a lot of military presence, people that have basic skills,” said Dave Penzone, a consultant for the city who helped put together the deal. “We understood from talking to [VT MAE president] Bill Hafner just this week that their intention is to build a Pensacola culture.”

“This is a big time company that’s very focused and that’s done their research on what a great city we are,” Hayward said. “This is just the kickoff of better things to come,” he added, referring to his hope that VT MAE’s arrival sparks the development of an “aviation cluster” in Northwest Florida.

Construction is expected to take about 16 months under general contractor Greenhut Construction and the facility is expected to open in spring 2018.

Conceptual rendering of the planned VT MAE facility at Pensacola International Airport. (City of Pensacola/Special to The Pulse)

Conceptual rendering of the planned VT MAE facility at Pensacola International Airport. (City of Pensacola/Special to The Pulse)

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