The weather wasn’t alone in providing brightness to last week’s celebration at Costin Airport in Port St. Joe.
Skyborne Technology joined with county officials as they celebrated the company’s acquisition of the airport facility and expansion to the south end of the county of its operations.
The festivities were so alluring the size of the crowd steadily grew as motorists passing by stopped for a look.
In addition to some remarks and some commemorative-cake sampling, there was also a healthy peek at the potential Skyborne, and its development and manufacture of manned and unmanned aviation systems, could mean to the county.
Gulf Coast State College was represented by instructors, students and vehicles from its budding drone program.
A table of unmanned aircraft, along with detailed explanations of the many featured, were kept busy by the curious.
Skyborne and partner Unmanned Systems, Inc. provided a couple of drone demonstrations, the scope of which was curtailed by heavy winds, which prevented much of a flight for the GCSC balloon.
“This is a great day for Gulf County,” said Jim McKnight, the executive director of the county’s Economic Development Coalition.
“Economic development is about creating good jobs that if kids want to stay in Gulf County, or come back, they can find good jobs that pay a decent wage.”
And, the Skyborne effort, added Hovig Yaralian of Unmanned Systems, “Will do that.”
Unmanned Systems’ role will focus largely on the education component of the broader effort, linking the existing partnership between Skyborne and GCSC and a growing partnership with the county’s public schools.
Unmanned System is primarily a military contractor; it is the primary contractor with the U.S. Air Force on the Predator drone.
In effect, Unmanned Systems will be the boots-on-the-ground partner working with the school district as it creates a drone program, which will provide students the path to several industry certifications.
The district has been awarded $750,000 from Triumph Gulf Coast for the program.
“You want to give kids an opportunity,” said Yaralian. “Our goal would be to work with the schools to open doors for students to see what it takes. To give kids a bright future.”
The partnership, he added, could lead to scholarships and employment down the road.
And for skeptics that might wonder if teenage students have the maturity and focus to navigate that, sometimes arduous, path, a few minutes with the passionate Yaralian, will dispel doubts.
“Once you open the door, that is it,” he said with a grin creasing his face.
Once all the parts are assembled, students would be transported to the airport facility for classes and, ultimately, hands-on training.
Skyborne is already working on the permitting to construct a building/hangar on the southern end of the airport where classroom space will be part of the floor plan.
The airport brought together two central needs for Skyborne and its work: the first, water, came with the establishment in September of its first U.S. facility in the county’s Dalkeith Industrial Park.
The company also needed a long grass field as many drones can only be landed on the softer surface, said Skyborne President and CEO Mike Lawson, and Costin was on the radar early.
“That is rare to find in the Southeast,” Lawson said of the water/grass combination.
With its growing footprint, facilitated in part with several acquisitions and mergers, Skyborne is diversifying the local company within its walls.
“We are very diversified with the jobs we have,” Lawson said, noting jobs range from seamstresses to engine-building, working with composites, analyzing operational systems.
“We have a lot of great technology. We had a lot of talent and we needed to find a home. You still had to have the vision to pull together everything we needed. We are glad to be here.”