Aviation company departs, new business sought at South AL Regi - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Aviation company departs, new business sought at South AL Regional Airport


An aviation company in Covington County that had hoped to bring high-paying jobs to the area has decided to pull out of South Alabama. Now, county and city officials in Opp and Andalusia are on the hunt for a new prospect.The clock is ticking for the government agencies that will be forced to make hefty monthly payments on the space if new business doesn't come to town.

DRS Technologies, a government aviation contractor, has decided not to renew its lease at the South Alabama Regional Airport in Covington County, as a result of a restructuring of its business lines.

WSFA 12 News was there in 2012 when the governor and other state officials were on hand as the company set up shop in the hopes of bringing jobs to the region by landing defense contracts to overhaul and repair military aircrafts. But after two years, DRS has not been able to secure a contract.

"I think what's happened is a timing issue. They came in January of 2012 and that was right in the midst of sequestration, contracts were harder and harder to get with the government," said Rick Clifton, President & CEO of the Covington County Economic Development Commission.

DFS has paid $1.6 million in lease payments for the facilities and another $280,000 in improvements but a contract never came through.

"As we all know what's happened in the defense department and government operations during this period of recession, we've had cutbacks in a lot of areas. Unfortunately, it hit DRS just at the wrong time. They haven't been able to secure a contract but it certainly hasn't been for lack of trying," said Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson. "I guess their prospects for getting a contract dimmed to the point that they're willing to give up the buildings."

DRS's lease is up at the end of the year. In the meantime, officials are looking for new company to move its operations into the C-130 hangars before tax payers have to foot the bill. If one isn't found by January, the lease payments on the twin hangars would have to be picked up and paid by the City of Andalusia and Opp and the Covington County Commission. The bond payments are $45,000 per month.

Opp's mayor says the town would be responsible for $9,000 a month- payments he says will put a tremendous strain on its town and its budget.  Mayor Johnson says Andalusia would be responsible for around $15,000 a month. The Covington County Commission would be responsible for the rest. The three agencies financed the building of the hangars with a bond issue a number of years of ago. DRS needed a facility before they could bid on government contracts so the bond was used to spur economic development. 

Now, Covington County officials are working to find a new tenant for the facility, hoping that the existing infrastructure will be a tool for recruitment.

"In a perfect world, we'd have 150 high paying jobs out there but it's not a perfect world we live in and in industrial recruitment, it never is a perfect world. Sometimes you're successful and sometimes you're not. The issue is, are going to be out there still pitching and trying to land those jobs and we intend to do that," Mayor Johnson said. "Without those facilities, we wouldn't have a chance because industry, quite frankly, doesn't come and look at bare ground, they come and look at facilities."

The Covington County Economic Development Commission is already marketing the hangers to other corporations. Johnson said officials would also consider companies with warehousing needs or a distribution center which would be compatible with the airport operation. The 

"What we may be able to find now is somebody who already has work that are looking to expand into an additional facility," Clifton said. "It's a detriment that DRS is leaving but it's a positive because we have a state of the art facility here on our airport which we can use to recruit businesses to come in and we are actively doing that already."

Mike Mount, a spokesman for DRS Technologies, Inc. released the following statement to WSFA: 

“Since opening the DRS Technologies facility at the South Alabama Regional Airport three years ago we have made many attempts to bring business to the wire grass region of southern Alabama.  Unfortunately, the environment for the maintenance, modernization, repair and overhaul business was not strong enough to support our presence at the airfield and we will be closing the facility at the end of 2014. DRS Technologies deeply appreciates all of the support we received from the local, state and Congressional leaders as well as those in the community who have assisted our efforts.”

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