We now turn to the portion of our program that includes, wait for it, positive economic news.
Skyborne Technology, Inc., a designer, developer and manufacturer of manned, unmanned and drone aviation systems, announced last week that it will expand its footprint in Gulf County.
The company has executed a contract to purchase Costin Airport in Port St. Joe, translating into not only a geographic expansion, but also facility and operational expansion.
“This is exhilarating news for our storm-devastated community and the timing could not be better,” said Jim McKnight, Executive Director of the county Economic Development Coalition.
“Our business community has been resilient in their response to Hurricane Michael and this news adds an exclamation point to our intent to rebuild Gulf County.”
Skyborne Technology established its first U.S. manufacturing facility at the Dalkeith Industrial Park in September, capping months of negotiations as the county sought to secure a stable company to occupy the county-owned complex.
And where the Industrial Park provided a manufacturing base, the acquisition of Costin Airport will provide a home for assembly, flight operations and training in unmanned aircraft systems.
“Acquiring the Costin Airport compliments our strategic objective to have both manufacturing and flight operations for our aviation products in Gulf County,” said Deborah Cheek, Senior Vice President of Public Relations for Skyborne.
The company, said CEO Mike Lawson, “really wanted to be in Florida.”
Gov. Rick Scott’s heavily promoted the aerospace and technology sectors and Gulf County provided an additional ‘strategic reason” for locating a facility: plenty of water in addition to land.
A technology Skyborne is developing has underwater applications.
Additionally, much of the technology and systems Skyborne is developing are also part of the military’s mission and a segment of that work is taking place down the road at Tyndall AFB.
“There are a lot of things moving in this direction,” Lawson said.
The company also will bring compelling educational partnerships.
The company will be working in cooperation with Gulf Coast State College for the manufacturing of drones, airships, first responder communication systems and training as part of its educational outreach, according to a press release.
“Northwest Florida is rapidly becoming a focal point for national and worldwide interest in the areas of unmanned vehicle systems and advanced manufacturing,” said Dr. John Holdnak, President of Gulf Coast State College.
“Skyborne Technology represents the convergence of these two critical paths of economic development for our region. I couldn’t be prouder, or more excited that Skyborne has selected this college to be their educational training partner … And, I couldn’t be happier that Gulf County stands at the epicenter of their operations.”
Lawson added the company was likely to be heavily involved in a district public school proposal to create a drone program.
Skyborne’s growth will bring other educational and job-training programs opportunities and in a county in need of quality jobs, the company’s presence will have an impact as it, hopefully, grows for “years to come.”
“This is where it’s at,” Lawson said. “We feel being in this area, a potential growth area, is (a positive).
“If we can help improve the local environment, provide jobs for students in high school and college … we want to soak that up.”
Long-term, the company expects to create roughly 100 local jobs.
Skyborne Technology, with facilities in Central America and South America, touts itself as at the cutting edge of aviation systems, designing and developing manned, i.e. tethered, and unmanned technology with underwater applications.
Airships are used in homeland security, defense, telecommunications and other markets, according to a press release.
As a homeland security or defense tool, the airships can be equipped to perform high-level research, superior intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance applications and secure communications.
In telecommunications, they provide a viable alternative to cell towers and satellites.
Skyborne airships can be launched inexpensively and from virtually any location. In addition, they can be returned to land so that payloads can be recovered and exchanged allowing for technological updates or equipment replacement.
In considering the company’s products, Lawson said consider a mother ship in the air on a tether or extremely long line.
Within the mother ship, in turn, are any number of drones which can be deployed, in the air and underwater, for a variety of applications.
A significant application is agricultural assessment as well as assessing power grids and a host of monitoring applications.
“The uniqueness of our design is that we’ve combined multiple designs,” Lawson said. “The technology is proven. It just needed to be organized into a company that can use that technology (at its potential).
“It’s a combination of doing business in a different way and doing it in an affordable way.”