Hancock County Courting Another High Tech Industry

Hancock County is courting another high tech industry. A European Aerospace company is looking to build a $600 million aircraft assembly plant.

Hancock County is competing with locations in 35 other states. The winning community will benefit from 1,100 high tech jobs.

Most everyone spruces up when they know guest are coming to town. When your guest is a multi-million dollar company and more than a thousand jobs are on the line, economic development leaders want to shine.

"We're hopeful we'll make the cut and get a site visit. And we're preparing for that just in case already," said Hal Walters, Executive Director of Hancock County's Port & Harbor Commission.

All types of upgrade and repair work is underway at Stennis International Airport.

"We're in the very early stages of the site selection process. We've provided all the information that they've asked for."

European Defense Systems wants to build a plant to assemble the KC 330 fuel tanker airplane. The company needs space for a 1.5 million square foot hanger and office space, as well as room for an engineering and design facility.

"They need about 130 to 150 acres and we have sufficient acres out there for that, as well as to expand."

Walters admits competition for the facility is stiff.

"I think our chances are excellent really. We do have some tough competition out there. We've got Brookley Field in Mobile and Belle Chase in New Orleans, they're tough competition. But I think we're up for the challenge."

He says the NASA buffer zone that surrounds the airport is the county's biggest advantage. Aerospace companies don't like encroachment on communities.

Hancock County's business community is ready to welcome European Aerospace Defense Systems.

"It creates new jobs, new business income, new sales tax revenue," said Tish Williams, Executive Director of the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce.

Walters says there are still a lot of "ifs" associated with this project. Namely, the company hasn't yet won the contract with the Department of Defense.

European Aerospace Defense Systems is competing with Boeing to build the aircraft.

Even if European Aerospace doesn't win that contract, the company is still looking for a U.S location for an Engineering and Design complex with 150 jobs.

Economic development leaders should know by June if Hancock County made the first round.

by Al Showers