MacDill Air Force Base flying high as a premier Tampa Bay economic driver

2 minute read July 2019 —When describing the major economic drivers in the Tampa Bay region, the typical response will normally be associated with Fortune 500 companies, a budding technology sphere and the large healthcare systems that all call Tampa Bay MSA their home. While these are all significant contributors to the local economy, there is one entity that cannot be overlooked or underestimated: MacDill Air Force Base. 

A staple in the Tampa Bay community, MacDill Air Force Base employs approximately 15,000 people and creates over $3 billion a year in economic impact. Established in 1939, the base has been an economic powerhouse and premier training ground for aircrews throughout all the major wars since its inception. 

The impact of the base is far-reaching, as collaboration with various sectors of the local economy has spurred continued interest from companies to do business in Tampa Bay. Invest: spoke with Larry Richey, managing principal for Cushman & Wakefield in Tampa, who noted the appealing environment for defense technology thanks in part to MacDill. “We have companies that are providing cybersecurity services in conjunction with MacDill Air Force Base and the University of South Florida. The triangulation of MacDill, USF and cybersecurity startups has created a ripe environment for defense technology here in Tampa,” Richey told Invest:. 

Former Mayor Bob Buckhorn also credited MacDill as one of the reasons that Tampa is able to stay competitive in attracting new businesses to the area. “Most people don’t realize that MacDill is the only base in the military system that is home to two combat commands. There are 2,400 defense-contracting firms in the Tampa Bay area that largely feed off of central command but, more specifically, special operations command.” 

While the base has been successful on it’s own merit and continues to give back to the region tenfold, the relationship between MacDill Air Force Base and Tampa Bay is mutually beneficial. The Tampa Bay region has long been known as a welcoming community for veterans and active duty citizens. Regional Vice President for USAA Yvette Segura spoke to Invest: about the deep-rooted connection between the Air Force base and the surrounding community. “Knowing that the community as a whole is so warm and receptive to the folks coming into MacDill has created a strong sense of fellowship that is welcoming to a company like ours. Part of our company mission is to support military members as they’re exiting their roles and to offer them an opportunity to work with us,” she said. “There’s something special about what Tampa does for military families, and I truly believe it speaks to the collective comradery of the community leaders in the Tampa Bay area.

There aren’t many areas in Florida, or the United States for that matter, that have the economic advantage that MacDill Air Force Base provides to the Tampa Bay region. The base’s influence and impact continues to drive Tampa Bay both socially and economically into the future. 

To learn more about our interviewees, visit their websites:

MacDill Air Force Base:


Cushman & Wakefield:

Orlando’s Airport Makeovers

By staff writer

February 2019

In an economic environment characterized by growth and prosperity, airports play a significant role. Florida is home to more than 100 public airports, and the aviation sector has an estimated impact of $144.0 billion annually. The City of Orlando is a key player in the industry, being one of the most visited destinations in the world and home to the second-busiest airport in the state.

But what are the region’s smaller airports doing to keep up with the growth in the area? Invest: Orlando spoke with several leaders in the industry to find out. The overwhelming response from our interviewees is that smaller airports are reinventing themselves, embarking on expansions and attracting a diverse array of companies in an effort to keep up with Orlando’s continued growth.

The Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB) is undergoing an expansion project that should be complete in the fourth quarter of 2020. “We are continuing to grow, and we know that maybe 10 years down the road we will need a new terminal, but we wanted something that would facilitate our growth in the meantime, so we are adding four new gates,” Diane Crews, president and CEO of SFB, told Invest:.

According to a report from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Aviation and Spaceports Office, SFB’s direct economic impact in 2014 was about $1.1 billion, and the indirect impact was $646,000. The airport also employs over 23,000 people.

The growth and prosperity in the area has brought a change in the profile of the typical traveler at SFB. “The Orlando Sanford International Airport has been used mostly for leisure travel, especially because our flights do not have the frequency that business travelers need,” Crews said. “That is starting to change. We are seeing more business travel, and we are going to be working towards increasing that component of our operation.”

The Orlando region has five airports (including Orlando International Airport [MCO] and SFB) with more than 175 nonstop destinations around the world. One of these hubs is the Kissimmee Gateway Airport (ISM), located in Osceola County approximately 25 miles south of downtown Orlando.

ISM is looking to attract more aerospace and aviation companies, and the City of Kissimmee created the Aerospace Advancement Initiative to support that goal. ISM accommodates general aviation air service 24 hours a day, as well as flight training schools, box hangars, new T-hangars and a variety of recreational activities. It also employs over 1,000 people and has a $45.8 million direct economic impact and $22.1 million indirect impact, according to a report from FDOT’s Aviation and Spaceports Office.

As a result of the Aerospace Advancement Initiative, the aerospace firm Know 2 Solutions, which connects aircrafts through satellite communications hardware and services, landed its headquarters in the ISM last year.

Terry Lloyd, director of aviation at ISM, told Invest: about other highlights the airport saw in 2018 that underscore the growth it is experiencing. “In 2018 we stood up a high school on the airport property, which is a great benefit for the local community. One of our flight training businesses added a full-motion simulator. We have a lot of flight training.” Lloyd also pointed out that the airport attracts people from overseas and domestic locations and trains them to be professional pilots.

Last year the Orlando International Airport remained the busiest airport in the state of Florida, with a record 47.7 million annual passengers. The Sanford airport saw a record of 3 million passengers in 2018.

“If you’re looking at investing in Orlando, Orange County and the City of Kissimmee are business friendly and very proactive,” said Lloyd. “We provide training for some of our residents; when they graduate from high school they can get career education at their local airport, and it results in fairly high-paid jobs. We are kind of training our own workforce here for anybody who wants to come in on the education side and invest.”

The amount of visitors arriving to the Greater Orlando area is expected to go up in 2019, and airport officials, government leaders and related industries are all working to keep up with the projected growth in the area. Invest: Orlando is excited to see what’s in store for the aviation sector in 2019 and beyond!

For more information on our interviewees, visit their websites:

Orlando Sanford International Airport:

Kissimmee Gateway Airport:


Improvements Underway at ATL and McCollum Field

February 2018 — Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is spending $265 million on curbside canopies (construction began in the fall of 2017) and other airport improvements, including upgrading taxiways, expanding gates and increasing cargo operations. It is also using innovative technology to improve customers’ experience.

“We are trying to develop better orientation around the airport,” Roosevelt Council Jr., general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson, told Focus:. “My dream is that when a person comes to the curb side, all of their processes will be automated. The airport has advanced signage and a mobile app that tells a passenger where a flight is, when it is and also how to get there. Technology is part and parcel of the airport, so that naturally drives growth. We’re also intensifying our customer service aspect by strengthening our wifi service.”

Recently, Hartsfield-Jackson was named the world’s busiest airport for the 20th year in a row. It serves 275,000 passengers with 2,500 flights per day. 

In December 2017, the airport experienced an 11-hour blackout that had a huge economic impact stretching far beyond the Atlanta area. It began with the terminal lights flickering and then going out, soon followed by monitors and other appliances. Thousands of passengers were stranded and literally left in the dark. A fire that started in the underground electrical system damaged two substations, including the “redundant” system, which should have provided backup power. The aviation hub was paralyzed, and the effects spread internationally. More than 1,000 flights in and out of the airport were cancelled, and American, Delta and United suspended operations.

This incident raised questions about the overall health of U.S. infrastructure and airports in particular. President Trump promised a $1 trillion plan within the first 100 days of his presidency to improve what he referred to as America’s “crumbling infrastructure,” but the country has yet to see a proposal.

Congestion continues to plague the aviation industry. According to the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, 24 of the top 30 airports in the U.S. are expected to experience “Thanksgiving peak-traffic volume” at least one day a week in 2018. With federal caps on how much expense airports can pass along to passengers for facility expansion and renovation, we could be looking at a $42 billion funding gap between 2016 and 2025.

Hartsfield-Jackson isn’t the only Atlanta-area airport that is aware of these issues and taking steps toward addressing them. At nearby Cobb County International Airport-McCollum Field, “more than $50 million of public funds have been spent over the past 20 years on improving the airport, including a new air traffic control tower, runway expansions, parallel taxiways, improved apron areas and an instrument landing system,” Airport Manager Karl Von Hagel told Focus:. “Cobb County International Airport now has the longest general aviation runway in the Metro Atlanta area at 6,295 feet.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said that the “worldwide leadership role” that Hartsfield-Jackson holds enables it to “maintain its status as the economic engine of the Southeast.” For that reason, keeping the airport’s infrastructure healthy is a high priority for today and in years to come.

For more about Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, click here.
For more about Cobb County International Airport, click here.


Flying high

Alex Wertheim

American Airlines Senior Vice President for Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean Art Torno discusses the significance of Miami as a transport hub for the Americas

How has establishing a hub in Miami contributed to American Airlines’ business? 
In 2014, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of our Miami hub. This was momentous for both American Airlines and Miami-Dade; today, over 70 percent of departures from Miami International Airport (MIA) are American Airlines flights. We are privileged to be an airline company here, as Miami allows us to link North America to the rest of the hemisphere. This linkage has contributed greatly to American Airlines’ growth in MIA. In 1989, we had 19 flights a day and about 200 employees. That same year, we purchased assets from Eastern Airlines, which gave us access to routes in Latin America and the Caribbean. That investment was one of the smartest decisions American Airlines has made in its 80-year history. Today, we fly over 340 flights a day, to 126 different destinations, and employ 11,500 people.
What have been some recent developments in government relations in the hemisphere?
We constantly work with governments to develop the demand, to create the market, for air travel, particularly in the Caribbean, where we engage in cooperative advertising, work with hotels and travel agencies, to generate demand. Government relations are also the means by which we develop new routes. A great ex-ample is Brazil, where we’ve worked with, not just the federal government, but local governments as well, to increase access to locations that were previously isolated. As a result, American Airlines now controls 42 percent of traffic from Brazil to the U.S., from which Miami greatly benefits.
One challenge for Miami-Dade aviation pertains to lengthy customs processing. How can this be addressed?
Lengthy customs procedures could deter travelers from flying to MIA, thus hurting tourism and commerce. Addressing this matter – which is significant – has meant collaborating with the county and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to add additional officers; look at new technologies and staffing models and share different profiles of customers.
Most international airports in the U.S. have a lower split between foreign customers and domestic. At MIA, there is a larger percentage of foreign arrivals, so if MIA is being staffed with the same models used for other international hubs in the U.S., that model would be inadequate because a larger portion of our customers need a deeper level of scrutiny. In the last two years, we as an airport community entered into a pilot program with CBP where we would collectively fund overtime hours for their officers during peak travel times. So far, this initiative has been successful and is now being rolled out in two or three other airports in the country.

Soaring growth

Miami International Airport Aviation Director Dr. Emilio T. Gonzalez, discusses infrastructural upgrades and plans to transform Miami-Dade into a global hub


Miami International Airport (MIA) has seen incredible growth in recent years. What is the strategy to keep pace?

Broadening capacity is a priority for this airport and at the core of both our medium and long-term strategies. We service 40 million passengers each year – roughly the population of Argentina – and the airport’s capacity is 50 million; at some point we will run out of space.

To anticipate these needs, we are undertaking a number of major infrastructural upgrades. One project is to build 40 hardstands to park planes. Until recently, air traffic operated on peaks and valleys. You see no arriving flights at 2 a.m., but at 6 a.m. there is a surge of planes. Some of our aircraft, particularly those originating from South America, fly here and go nowhere else. They arrive at, for example, 8 p.m. from Brazil and stay until 11 p.m. Because of American Airlines’ recent reorganization, we no longer have the peaks and valleys, but instead, have constant traffic. Consequently, we no longer have the luxury of avail-able empty gates for us to park idle planes.

We must also accommodate growth in air freight, another important driver in this economy. We operate five airfields. One of them, our training and transition airfield, located in the middle of the Everglades, has a 10,000-foot runway. We are looking to convert that into a cargo airport sometime in the distant future.


What is MIA doing to upgrade its terminals?

We are currently renovating Terminal E, which is part of the central concourse. Interestingly, we are only launching this project as a stopgap measure to buy us time before we can build new structures.

Eventually, Terminals G, F and E will become two terminals. We will start on one end of the airport and work our way in, knocking down terminals along the way. We are looking to break ground on this project in 2020 and it will take 10-15 years to complete the terminal.

Because of its central position within the airport, and because of added traffic from the slew of new flights that American Airlines has announced they will be adding, Terminal E will be where the action is. Subsequently, we are investing in modernizing it. We recently purchased a $90-million train system to improve connectivity within the airport. This will be delivered in the next two years and has a lifespan of 10 years. In the distant future, we are looking to erect a high-end mall, which will have all of the major luxury retailers, in the central terminal.


What are MIA’s plans for broadening connectivity with respect to passenger business?

MIA is the second-largest international passenger airport in the U.S. However, in looking at our existing network there are a number of gaps. With respect to Europe, we need to improve connections with Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. We are looking to develop routes like Warsaw-Miami and Stockholm-Miami.

Asia is another big untapped market for us, in terms of passenger service. We already have cargo business with Asian companies, namely China Air, Korean Air, and Cathay Pacific, and those are usually one-stop flights that go from East Asia to Alaska, refuel and go back. I have spoken to representatives from different Asian carriers, and they all want to come here; it’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.” The “when” will happen when these airlines get new, larger, aircraft, for instance, the Dreamliners. When they start getting A-380s, then we will start to see an increase in Asian traffic coming here.

We are also working on getting flights to Africa. These don’t necessarily have to be through African carriers but could be U.S. airlines with Miami-Johannesburg, Miami-Lagos or Miami-Cairo routes.

MIA is the number one international freight airport in the U.S. What are the growth fundamentals of this segment?Being a gateway city, Miami sees cargo both coming in and going out. Planes arrive full of goods, and the only way they can generate a profit is if they also leave with full loads. From a cargo perspective, Atlanta can’t be Miami because they don’t have much to send back. At MIA, thanks to South Florida’s robust distribution and logistics operations, all of our cargo planes come in full of goods and they leave full as well. They arrive with perishables – flowers, fish, fruit – and depart with high-tech exports, such as electronics, medical technology, mining equipment and automobiles.


How does MIA contribute to job growth and economic diversification in South Florida?

The airport is one of the largest employers in Miami-Dade County, contributing nearly 158,000 direct jobs to the economy annually. It also generates a significant number of indirect jobs in related and peripheral industries, such as tourism, logistics, and manufacturing.

For instance, although it may not be very visible, there is a robust aerospace industry in South Florida. One of the largest airplane manufacturing companies, the Brazilian-based Embraer, has its U.S. headquarters in Ft. Lauderdale. B/E Aerospace, which is headquartered in Palm Beach and manufactures interior cabin products, has more employees than U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). The French-Italian aircraft manufacturer ATR recently relocated their North American headquarters to MIA from Virginia.


What are the most pressing challenges of operating an airport of this size and significance?

There are a lot of moving parts – some of it operational, some financial. The operational aspect is tied to the fact that we have over 90 airlines that fly out of here and they need a lot of care. We also have over 200 concession locations, which would make us one of the largest malls in the U.S., as well as related businesses such as a hotel, parking facilities, etc.

On the financial side, MIA is the largest economic engine – not just in Miami-Dade County, but in the U.S. Southeast, from Washington, D.C., down. To put this in perspective, we generate $1 billion more revenue than Hatsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; we are bigger than Disney World and bigger than the Tennessee Valley Authority. When you generate that much wealth and economic business, everyone wants a piece of the action. Consequently, I get lobbied frequently and must ensure that proper procedures, when it comes to bids, are enforced at all times.


What is your strategic vision for MIA and your outlook on South Florida’s economy?

Currently, Miami-Dade is the Gateway to Latin America. Ultimately, our goal is to transform it to a global hub. We have the fundamentals to support this – strong tourism, real estate, logistics and banking industries – and MIA’s capital projects will only boost this progression.


Expanding to new frontiers

Invest: Miami speaks with Akbar Al-Baker, CEO, Qatar Airways

Miami-Dade County holds a crucial space in both the U.S. and global travel markets. Its aviation industry is evolving to bring more passengers into and out of Miami International Airport (MIA), with improved operations and safety, and a focus on delivering a higher standard of service to the global traveler, both business and leisure. In fact, MIA is recognized worldwide as the crossroads of many diverse cultures and the increase in long-haul international air travel the airport has had improves growth potential across different economic sectors. Based on these factors, we look at Miami, in particular MIA, as the right partner to grow with.
Today, Qatar Airways is the only direct access to the Middle East that Miami-Dade County and Florida have. Our world travelers are very curious about Miami and have always been fascinated with its vibrant lifestyle and rich culinary, musical and cultural traditions. Our first year servicing MIA has been very successful. As a result of strong demand, we have decided to increase the frequency of flights from five times a week to daily scheduled service after just one year of operations.
Qatar Airways is heavily invested in Miami, as are other Qatari companies. We have strong partnerships with the travel, trade and marine industries, and support overall tourism efforts in South Florida. The Doha-Miami connection is thriving, and not from tourism alone. Growing linkages in art, fashion and a burgeoning international business community make this route a dynamic one. We have already seen that both cities have a strong appetite to learn from and share with one another. Some of the areas of mutual interest include luxury travel and tourism, entertainment and hospitality.
In 2014, Florida had a record year in tourism revenue, and new connections that bridge the East and West have contributed to this. As Latin America continues to elevate its global profile, Miami’s close ties with that region will become more important. The world wants to visit Miami and providing passengers access to this city, not only as a destination, but as a portal to Latin America and the Caribbean, increases both fascination and revenue.

Diversification plans

How the leading U.S. airport in air freight is crafting strategy for the long term

Emilio T. González Director – Miami-Dade Aviation Department

How has the strengthening U.S. dollar impacted passenger air traffic?

Our numbers have dipped as a result of the currency exchange rates, particularly when it comes to Latin American visitors. At the same time, we are expanding into new markets and seeing more diversification in our passenger lists. The net result was that 2015 was our best year for passenger growth, with 3 million more travelers year-over-year and a new record of 44.3 million annual passengers. Last year, Miami International Airport (MIA) also added eight new airlines and is now home to 101 carriers—the most of any U.S. airport. Additionally, MIA welcomed ve new international nonstop passenger routes: Cordoba, Argentina; Istanbul, Turkey; Manchester, England; Monterrey, Mexico; and Vienna, Austria. These developments speak to the fact that Miami is becoming more than just the Gateway to the Americas but the new gateway to the world.

For Miami-Dade’s business community, deepening ties with China is a top priority. What is MIA doing to facilitate direct air connection to the country?

Miami is the furthest geographic point from China in the mainland U.S., posing a significant barrier to bringing direct flights from China here. MIA’s strategy is not strictly focused on generating traffic to China, but building connectivity to Asia. Our studies show that mainland China on its own would not generate enough traffic to route a direct flight there, as they project that passengers from the country would only make up 25 percent of the demand for Miami-bound flights. However, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and other Asian countries boast tremendous potential to fill planes. We are presently engaging with Asian air carriers that are investing significantly in ultra-long haul aircraft and looking to expand their routes, such as EVA Airways and Cathay Pacific.

In 2015, MIA was designated by the International Air Transit Association (IATA) as a pharmaceutical freight hub. What is the impact of this distinction?

Pharmaceutical air cargo is a huge industry, and so far we have only captured a small portion of it. In 2015, we became the first airport in the U.S.—and only the second in the world—to be IATA-certified as a pharma hub. In early 2016, MIA hosted our first, and well attended, workshop for key pharma stakeholders. This fits perfectly with our strategic plan to grow and diversify our cargo facilities. Pharma cargo at MIA has grown 80 percent in the last ve years. And with this designation, and the partnerships we’ve developed with our freight forwarders and customs brokers, I think we are well positioned to capture a huge portion of the lucrative global pharma business.

What does Embraer say about Miami?

Invest: Miami speaks to Gary J. Spulak, President

In 2015, Embraer celebrated its 36th year in South Florida. Embraer’s arrival in Florida was our rst step toward globalization by establishing our U.S. presence. The U.S. was the most important aviation mar- ket at the time, and North America continues to be the strongest global market for Embraer aircraft. We arrived with a vision to become a major player in global aerospace and are now the highest aggregate value exporter in Brazil, a traditional commodities exporter.

For us, 2015 was filled with milestone achievements, notably a record sales order book value of $22.9 billion and the highest delivery volume of business and commercial aircraft in five years. Last year, Florida was key to the 10th anniversary of our executive jets business, launched in 2005 as a pillar of our diversification strategy. Since 2011, we have produced over 130 executive jets, valued at over $1 billion, in Florida. Most of these jets operate in the U.S., but we have also exported aircraft from Florida to 12 other countries. In 2013, we established a production facility for our defense and security business in Florida, and last year, it achieved its primary goal of delivering the first light-attack aircraft to the U.S. Air Force for Afghanistan.

To sustain global competitiveness, investment in innovation, research and development, new technologies and process enhancements.

Our corporate presence in South Florida is critical to our business development activities across the world. Over the last three decades we have witnessed Miami’s evolution from a hub of the Americas to a global platform for international business. As more businesses, industries and aviation companies recognize Miami’s key role in the global market, we will see more customers for commercial and business aircraft in our community.


What does American Airlines say about Miami?

Invest: Miami speaks with Marilyn Devoe, Vice President

Two years ago, American Airlines merged with US Airways, becoming the largest airline in the world. Since then, our efforts have been centered on becoming the greatest airline in the world for our customers, employees, stakeholders and partners.

Miami International Airport (MIA) is our third-busiest hub, following Dallas/Fort Worth and Charlotte, and our largest hub for international flights. We continued to pursue growth in this vibrant city. Just last year, we added six new destinations from MIA: San Antonio, Austin, Kansas City, Salt Lake City, Barranquilla, Colombia and Monterrey, Mexico. But our growth is not just measured by the number of flights and destinations we serve; it is also seen in the number of widebody aircraft—that is, double-aisled planes—we operate at MIA. Each widebody added to our hub has a significant economic impact, contributing, on average, 16 new pilots and 45 flight attendants.

As the largest airline operating at MIA, accounting for roughly 70 percent of tra c and servicing a high volume of international passengers, it is more important than ever to ensure our processes are streamlined. Technology is playing a key role, from online check-in, to the free mobile passport app that allows U.S. and Canadian citizens to be granted clearance within four seconds of arriving at U.S. Customs. American’s crewmembers are provided with Global Entry, which further eases the e ect of our people on the Customs and Border Protection system. We are also working to create more exit lanes and recently began connecting international baggage, thus easing the ow for international customers arriving to or transiting through MIA.

MIA remains important to American’s present and is key to our future success. Apart from its strategic location, what makes Miami unique is the supportive, collaborative spirit of the government and the business community. In the past couple of decades, American Airlines and the Greater Miami area have both experienced incredible growth. And, looking ahead, we see a promising future for both.