CRESTVIEW – Local tech entrepreneur and education leader Paul Hsu doesn’t get “no,” “late” and “maybe,” Triumph Gulf Coast Board Chairman Don Gaetz told an audience of over 200 people Wednesday night at Bob Sikes Airport.
They were gathered in a former light manufacturing plant of nearly 27,000 square feet which, thanks to Hsu’s vision, was renovated into a multi-million dollar school called the Northwest Florida State College Aviation Center of Excellence.
What Hsu understands is, “We’re going to do the right thing, we’re going to do it for the youth of Northwest Florida and we’re going to do it now,” Gaetz told the crowd at the opening. of the Center. .
The aviation center is located at 3152 Airport Road on the Hsu Innovation Institute North campus. The center will provide the Federal Aviation Administration with industry-recognized certifications in airframe and power plant mechanics, as well as professional piloting technology for commercial air and drone pilots.
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“These certifications will provide the very skills needed by the airlines and employers that we now attract in greater numbers here in Northwest Florida,” said Gaetz, former state senator and superintendent of the United States. Okaloosa County School District. “It’s one thing to create jobs here. It is quite another thing not to have the manpower that can fill and compete for these jobs, and that is the essential role that this aviation center of excellence plays in the overall scheme of aviation. building an aviation economy in Northwest Florida.
The school was established through a large public-private partnership between the non-profit Hsu Educational Foundation in Fort Walton Beach, Northwest Florida State College, Okaloosa County, Triumph Gulf Coast, Florida Department of Transportation , the Air Force and other supporters.
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Last summer, the Triumph Gulf Coast Board approved a grant of more than $ 7 million to the NWFSC – the largest grant in college history – to help fund the aviation center.
At Wednesday’s ceremony, Gaetz said Triumph is supporting the effort because students at the center who achieve certifications will simultaneously earn college credit towards a possible bachelor’s degree.
“But even if they don’t graduate, students who get certifications here in this location will earn 50% more in their personal income than the general population of Okaloosa County,” Gaetz said.
For example, the average annual salary of a person who obtains certifications as a cell and power plant mechanic at the center would be around $ 62,000, compared to the region’s average annual salary of around $ 42,000, according to Triumph information.
Gaetz said NWF State and its supporters raised $ 7.3 million, for a total commitment of $ 14.3 million for the center.
Hsu supported the college with a tailor-made construction lease in the aerial park to meet the needs of the center, and county and FDOT officials supported him with the construction of the center parking lot at a cost of over 600,000. $.
The Hsu Educational Foundation strengthens excellence in science, technology, engineering and math education, and provides scholarships and other support for programs that encourage entrepreneurship, leadership, vocational technical training and cultural enrichment.
“Ladies and gentlemen, what you see today is really just the start of great growth to come at Bob Sikes Airport,” said Hsu, who was joined at the inauguration by his wife. , his son and three of his grandchildren. “I think there will be a few more phases of this public-private partnership effort in the future, so I sincerely thank you all for believing in the importance of making this vision a reality.”
Aviation is a rapidly changing and growing industry, and there is a great need for qualified personnel to maintain and fly airplanes and to ensure that the air transport system operates smoothly at scale. global, NWF President Devin Stephenson told the audience.
He said that according to Boeing’s Business Market Outlook 2020, air traffic is expected to grow exponentially, with 2.1 million additional jobs in operational areas over the next 10 years.
“This aviation program is poised to prepare our students for success in several aerospace-related programs,” Stephenson said.
Ahead of Wednesday’s ceremony, Michael Erny, dean of vocational training at NWF State, told the Daily News that the first courses at the aviation center are scheduled to begin in August.
Triple R Construction de Navarre was the general contractor for the center. Erny said that while the building’s steel roof is original, all other parts of the old lightweight fabrication structure have been replaced for the new facility.
It includes the addition of a hangar door to allow aircraft to enter the facility. One of the first planes donated to benefit students was donated by Hsu’s business partner Bob Keller.