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December 20, 2014

Southwest: Diversifying in Paradise

Innovative approaches to development, incentives and hiring yield positive results.

Gary Shepherd | 9/24/2009

Southwest Florida
Demographics for the Southwest Region can be found at Business Florida's interactive map of Florida.
Regional Assets

Universities/Colleges
• Edison State College
• Florida Gulf Coast University
• Hodges University

Airports
• Charlotte County Airport
• Naples Municipal Airport
• Southwest Florida International Airport

Two decades ago Florida hadn’t yet established itself as the gateway to Latin America, but Air Technology Group Inc. founder and President Mike Turner believed that’s exactly where the state was headed. So he moved his business — lock, stock and assorted helicopter engine parts — from New Jersey to Florida, where, today, his vision of easy access to Latin American markets has come true.

From a site near Naples Municipal Airport, Air Tech tends to the power plants of Huey, Cobra and Kiowa OH58 helicopters, industry workhorses for military and security work, firefighting, agriculture and other heavy-duty chores. Almost 80% of Air Tech’s revenue is from overseas — mostly Latin America — and more than 70% is from government contracts.

“Business is strong,” says Turner, whose 25 employees repair and maintain Honeywell T53 and Rolls-Royce 250 helicopter engines and drive-trains. Since relocating to Florida’s southwestern Gulf Coast 20 years ago, Air Tech has quadrupled in size; in 2008, the company generated revenues of $8 million.

Along the way, Air Tech has had plenty of local help, including a partnership with Naples-based Lorenzo Walker Institute of Technology to train and certify mechanics. Turner has hired several graduates of the program, and, in turn, he provided a turbine engine to the school for use in hands-on classroom study.


Ready access to Latin American markets and skilled mechanics has helped Mike Turner quadruple the size of his helicopter repair business over 20 years in Naples.
[Photo: Eileen Escarda]
In physical size, Air Tech has expanded twice, to about 40,000 square feet total. Collier County helped Air Technology sell $2-million worth of industrial revenue bonds to fund that growth, and the Economic Development Council of Collier County has identified various training grants Turner has used to refine Air Tech employees’ skills.

“The EDC has been invaluable as an advocate for us,” Turner says. “Whenever there are issues with training or resources, they’ve been very receptive to helping.” And Air Tech returns the favor.

Turner was among several area business owners who opened their doors for site tours as part of the EDC’s “Project Innovation” diversification effort. To build the local economy, says Turner, “we obviously have to get away from reliance on tourism, building and agriculture. The EDC is working to do exactly that.”


Tags: Southwest, Business Florida

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