Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County/N Central FL News

N Central FL's Systemic Workforce Dev Problems Has HAECO Reeling, Columbia Cnty in Confusion

HAECO VP Kip Blakely (left) in a pensive moment as he address the Lake City Chamber of Commerce about HAECO and its workforce problems in Columbia County. Right frame (left to rt): Chamber Executive Dir. Dennille Decker, City Manager Johnson, FGC President Larry Barrett.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Yesterday's Chamber luncheon featured HAECO VP Kip Blakely, who told the Chamber about HAECO, a major world wide corporation, and the problems its aircraft division, HAECO - formerly TIMCO, was having in Lake City/Columbia County with workforce development. It can't find qualified workers. This has been a systemic problem in Columbia County for decades, a county which has actively not pursued high quality, high paying jobs. Before Mr. Blakely spoke, Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter introduced him to the audience.


Mike McKee, Public Relations Dir., FGC; Glenn Hunter, County Econ. Dev. Dir.; Dr. Larry Barrett, President FGC. (left to right)

On May 31, 2016, Columbia County's Workforce Development Committee met.  The only committee members to show up were Florida Gateway College (formerly Lake City Community College) president, Dr. Larry Barrett, and the College's Director of Communications, Mike McKee. During that meeting, Dr. Barrett said, "We don't have a workforce strategy." (See: Columbia County Economic Development: "We don't have a workforce strategy")

Three weeks later, on June 20, 2016, the Work Force Development Committee met again. There was a lively discussion. The only consensus reached was that it was necessary to hold a Work Force Development Summit.

Anna Mendoza, the Operations Director of Career Source/Florida Crown told the Observer, "I am excited about sitting down face to face with the businesses and educators of the County to explore their needs."

Economic Development Dir. Hunter told the Observer, "It's a great opportunity to bring together all the players to move Columbia County toward a skilled workforce that attracts high-paying jobs with a future."

(See: Columbia County Workforce Development Summit On Tap for September)

In September 2016, your reporter asked Director Hunter when the summit was going to be held. He said that he had not scheduled it because the issues surrounding HAECO were taking all of his time.

Wednesday's Chamber Meeting: HAECO's Blakely Speaks

After Econ. Dev. Dir. Hunter told the audience, "HAECO is one of our largest regional employers. We have a tremendous opportunity to draw down workforce out of our region from Suwannee County, Baker County, Hamilton County, etc.," Mr. Blakely introduced himself, explaining that he was with TIMCO before it became HAECO and he is the Vice President of Industry and Public Relations.

Mr. Blakely said that selling TIMCO to HAECO "has been the absolutely greatest thing that ever happened to our company or the communities that we serve in."

Mr. Blakely said that in the last year and a half HAECO hired almost 400 people. He did not say how many of them were contracted employees, as the pipeline for local qualified employees is almost zero.

He also did not reveal how many were trainees or interns, or how many left after training for higher paying positions.

HAECO's primary business in Lake City is maintenance, repair and overhaul, known as MRO. It has 3200 employees, 800 in Lake City.

According to Mr. Blakely, HAECO is the largest MRO in the world. "We do over 4 million man-hours in the United States. We are at a million right here in Lake City."

North Carolina's Triad

                                         Read more about NC's Aviation Triad

A major part of HAECO's U.S. operation is located in what is known as North Carolina's Aviation Triad, which includes an international airport and numerous innovative aviation companies and a 6,000 plus growing workforce.

Mr. Blakely continued, "We are excited about our [Lake City] high school aviation program."

Columbia County's Lake City Tri-County Aviation Academy (workshop). Also are 3 portable one-room buildings used as classrooms.

Mr. Blakely explained that HAECO is "looking to model its aviation program after the one in Greensboro. There is an aviation high school there. It's a four year program. They start in the ninth grade."

This is the T.W. Andrews Aviation Academy. The Academy website explains the program: "The Aviation Academy is an Aviation Early College Program that prepares advanced students for the aerospace and engineering fields through a hands-on, project based, inquiry-driven process."

The purpose of this program is clearly not to produce "worker-bees" for the aircraft industry or HAECO, although according to the Academy, it gives students an aviation/academic background and it does give students the skills "to enter the workforce with little additional training." (scroll down the page to the last video)

Mr. Blakely told the group that [Columbia County] School Superintendant Lex Carswell "wants to create a bigger aviation high school."

It is unknown how big or from where the funding will come.

Mr. Blakely added that Dr. Barrett at the college is looking to build an $18 mil STEM school, "which would house our aviation project."

It is not clear what the aviation project is. Nor is much known about the $18 mil STEM school.

He added, "We could get this great pipeline going of young people coming through, getting an education - getting a career... We're hopeful to hire hundreds of young folks coming up in the near future right here out of Lake City."

Aviation Workforce

Mr. Blakely said, "The community that can win will be the community that can create a workforce. It is a global problem. We struggle with it all the way from Asia to here."

Mr. Blakely concluded, "We are planning and working towards hiring 400 additional people. We have hired that many. We have lost a few. We want to bring the contractor number down."

According to HAECO provided numbers, in January 2017, almost one-third of its workforce was provided by outside contractors.

FSCJ: Florida State College Jacksonville

Florida State College at Jacksonville is FAA approved and its students graduate with FAA Certification. Every student that graduates is hired.

Speaking under the condition of anonymity, one of Florida's top aviation/education experts told the Observer, " Every semester FSCJ graduates 25 new aviation maintenance technicians. HAECO has never gone over there [FSCJ] to recruit. FSCJ had five companies come to Jacksonville this year and offer every graduate a job: starting wages $18-$22 an hour."

In Jacksonville, Aviation Workforce Development is Happening

After a decade of hard work and investing  $90 million, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority (JAA) has transformed Cecil Field into an active, modern general aviation airport. These improvements made Cecil Field an attractive destination for government, private industry, and educational institutions. In 2006, Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) approached JAA about expanding its presence at Cecil Field with a new aircraft coating facility. According to Gene Milowicki, aviation programs director for the Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) Aviation Center of Excellence: "FSCJ obtained a $10 million grant from the state which JAA matched to fund the $20 million Aircraft Services Educational Facility (ASEF). JAA and Florida State College dedicated that facility on Feb. 1, 2010."

FGC: Ready to Step Up to the Plate – Now

Early this morning, your reporter was in contact with Florida Gateway President Dr. Larry Barrett. Your reporter asked what the college could do now to get folks workforce ready for a job at HAECO.

Dr. Barrett wasted no time in responding:

"I believe we could do some short term riveting and sheet metal training to get some people employed. We could get short term training up within two months. We would need to hire some staff and find a space on campus.

If we could utilize the Aviation Academy after 3:00 pm the turnaround would be shorter.

The funding challenge: unless HAECO wants to pay us directly for training, HAECO would need to work with the CareerSource Florida Crown and the college to commit to hiring the students once they receive a certificate of completion.

The target audience for this short term training would be the unemployed and be a non-traditional student.


After following the saga of the Columbia County Aviation Academy since its inception and the HAECO economic development issue, one thing is evident: no one is in charge.

A recent meeting in Lake City sponsored by Department of Economic Opportunity's (DEO) Sean Lewis has led nowhere and while there was talk during the meeting of developing a local workforce of HAECO ready workers, no one seems to know what "HAECO ready" means. It is unknown why Florida Crown wasn't invited.

FGC is ready to step up to the plate with DEO's CareerSource Florida Crown – now – to give folks that really need a job, a chance of a lifetime career.

The shoe is now on DEO's foot.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, as well as the Governor, should be watching.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On April 3, 2017, CK wrote:

After reading this article I was expecting a lot of available jobs posted for the Lake City area on the HAECO careers webpage. I am surprised that there isn't a single Lake City Fl job posted. Lake City certainly needs an improvement in their careers gap, but HAECO might need to do better with their marketing to potential workers.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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