Tenure: Longtime Employees at Florida Companies
Longtime employees at several iconic Florida companies reflect on their personal histories — and their companies'.
In the early 1960s, Piper Aircraft began producing single-engine Cherokee planes at a new factory in Vero Beach. By the end of the decade, about 7,000 Cherokees a year were rolling off the assembly lines.
In 1974, Peggy Williams, a transplant from West Virginia, got hired at the plant, making horizontal stabilizers for the Cherokee. Until then, Williams had worked in restaurants. She spent her first week learning to rivet. “That was very fascinating to me,” she says. “I was a fast learner.”
After several years, Williams moved to the Cherokee assembly line. “To me, that was where the action was,” she says. “Back then, aircraft rolled every 20 to 30 minutes. You had that much time to get your assembly done and over to the next station.”
Today, Williams supervises about 70 employees who make small parts for Piper’s Cherokee and Malibu planes. The company expects to produce 235 planes this year, up from 155 last year. Although production levels are much lower than they were a half-century ago, prices now range from $370,000 for a pilot training plane to $2.9 million for the singleengine Piper M600. (In the 1960s, a Piper plane cost less than $10,000.)
“It’s just an interesting job, period,” Williams says. “You work with your hands all day. You get to see what you’re building, and you get to see that thing fly.”
Vero Beach-based Piper Aircraft was founded in 1927 as Taylor Brothers Aircraft in Rochester, N.Y. In the 1950s, Piper opened an aircraft design facility at the Vero Beach Municipal Airport, later converting it to a manufacturing plant for general aviation planes. The government of Brunei has owned Piper since 2009.
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