After more than a decade of political wrangling and economic undulation, Mobile’s endeavor to turn the Gulf Coast into an aerospace hub has made its biggest step yet.
A giant leap towards that goal was made tangible today with the opening of Airbus’ $600 million assembly plant at the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley south of downtown Mobile.
First announced in 2012, the new 210,000 square-foot facility comes more than 10 years after Mobile lost the contract to build the next generation of Air Force tankers under defense contractor European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. The contract was later won by Boeing, and with it, went Mobile’s chances at making its foray into aerospace manufacturing.
Paris-based defense contractor EADS — then Airbus’ parent company — chose Mobile for an assembly plant in its bid to build the KC-330 aerial refueling tanker for the Air Force. After the company lost the bid for the new tanker, government and business leaders acted to pull Airbus back to the table to manufacture a new passenger aircraft in Mobile.
The first U.S.-made Airbus commercial aircraft – an A321 – is scheduled for delivery in 2016. By 2018, the facility will produce between 40 and 50 single-aisle aircraft per year. Airbus estimates a demand over the next 20 years for some 4,700 single-aisle aircraft in North America alone.
Airbus currently employs more than 250 employees at its manufacturing facility. The plant will employ about 1,000 when it reaches full production by 2018.
“The Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility is an important step forward in Airbus’ strategy, strengthening our position as a leader and competitor in all of our key markets,” said Airbus President and CEO Fabrice Brégier. “It enables us to grow our already significant presence in America — the largest single-aisle aircraft market in the world — and to be closer to our U.S. customers and key supplier partners.”
Fabrice Brégier and members of the new Airbus workforce in Mobile were joined at the inaugural ceremony today by Airbus Group CEO Tom Enders, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, Senator Jeff Sessions, Congressman Bradley Byrne, and scores of dignitaries, executives, and local leaders.
Luring Airbus to the Gulf Coast came at a cost. State and local leaders promised nearly $160 million in incentives to the aerospace giant. As of today, the state has paid Airbus $41 million. Alabama Industrial Development Training, an independent agency under the state Secretary of Commerce, is providing more than $50 million.
Mobile County is contributing $14 million and the city of Mobile has contributed more than $10 million of a potential $18 million.
Taxpayer funds are being spent to build the manufacturing facility and improve infrastructure at the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley, the site of the former Brookley Air Force Base, which closed in 1969. Also included in the deal are millions in local and state tax incentives for Airbus.
The incentives, however, are expected to pay off. Officials expect an annual payroll of more than $60 million when the state reaches full operating capacity. Along with estimated property taxes of nearly $200,000 annually, the state puts Airbus’ GDP to the state economy at more than $400 million.
“The domino effect comes from suppliers following us into the Gulf Coast — and with those new jobs comes their families, their jobs, schools, investment in homes, etc. — a massive growth catalyst for the local economy,” said Airbus’ Mary Anne Greczyn.