August 23, 2010

West Memphis ideal choice for planned aviation technology program

by Ward Wimbish
Director, Office of Economic Development

Mid-South Community College has been awarded $3,391,053 by the U.S. Department of Labor to establish an aviation technology program in West Memphis. The grant is funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Key partners in the program include Arkansas Northeastern College in Blytheville (which will receive $851,136 of the grant), the Arkansas Delta Training and Education Consortium (ADTEC), the Workforce Investment Board of Eastern Arkansas, FedEx Express, and Aviation Repair Technologies.

MSCC president Dr. Glenn Fenter said the college was, “honored to be given an opportunity of this magnitude to create a model for training workers for the growing aviation technology field. Our goal continues to be the creation of a workforce that will be second to none in the nation, and we believe this grant will give us the resources needed to accomplish great things in our region. We expect nothing short of a tremendous economic outcome as a result of this grant.”

Dr. Fenter’s predictions couldn’t be more accurate. Promotion of the aviation industry in Arkansas is listed as one of the eight priorities in Gov. Mike Beebe’s current Workforce Investment Act State Plan. The creation of High Growth Career Educational Pathways is the first priority in the plan, and the MSCC program will support both objectives.

U.S. Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, Congressmen Marion Berry and Mike Ross, and other state and regional leaders worked together to secure the significant grant for eastern Arkansas. With the support of that level of dedicated leadership and with the combined strength of the key partners in the program, success is all but guaranteed.

MSCC will use its funding to develop an integrated, FAA-certified training program for airframe and powerplant technicians. The model program will then be replicated at training facilities in major metropolitan areas. Emphasizing internships and on-the-job training, the MSCC program will give students the skills and experience needed to meet the demands of the aviation
maintenance industry.

But the success of the program will hinge on more than visionary leadership and the top-notch workforce training that MSCC can provide. The “tremendous economic outcome” Dr. Fenter said he expects to be generated locally by the program will come about in part because of the the unique location of West Memphis.

West Memphis has easy access to the third busiest section of interstate in the United States for truck traffic, the largest river for deepwater cargo traffic and two rail bridges across the Mississippi River. But West Memphis has appeal as an air traffic destination, as well.

Our proximity to Memphis International Airport, the world’s busiest cargo airport, goes without saying. West Memphis Municipal Airport, with a 6,000-foot runway, is a reliever airport for Memphis International.

But because of our central location and smaller size, West Memphis Municipal Airport is also a natural re-fuelling and maintenance stopover for corporate jets, air ambulances and sports team jets travelling across the country. And by extension, it makes sense that West Memphis is an ideal location for the construction of new aviation service, maintenance and training faclities. And there is plenty of available property near the airport to accommodate these types of facilities.

Of course, our proximity to FedEx and the involvement of FedEx Express in this project can’t be overlooked when estimating the potential for success of the planned aviation technology program. In addition to participating in the internship program, FedEx Express is donating an operating aircraft, tooling and test equipment to MSCC for student training.

Greg Hall, vice president of FedEx Express Aircraft Maintenance comments, “We are proud of our skilled and talented Aviation Maintenance Technicians. Observing their professionalism and expertise will help prepare MSCC students for future success in the aviation maintenance industry.”

As global business becomes more focused on the fast-paced energy and bioscience fields, West Memphis is perfectly suited to provide the time-sensitive access, easy distribution and logistical resources needed. We are focusing our economic development efforts on the targeted industries of warehouse distribution and logistics; time-sensitive manufacturing; biofuel production; and wind power.

With the addition of this MSCC technology program, we’re adding the aviation industry to that list. And we’re adding one more to the list of reasons why West Memphis makes sense for businesses of all kinds.