Westfield Scores Big with Planned Corporate Expansion at Barnes AirportAt the recent ceremony marking the official announcement of Gulfstream Aerospace Corps’ expansion of its service facility at Barnes Municipal Airport, Mayor Dan Knapik jokingly told the crowd that he and other members of his staff in City Hall “can finally sleep at night.”
With a couple of gleaming white jets as a backdrop, the event in Hangar 2 had all of the customary dignitaries in attendance, from Gov. Deval Patrick, who remembered fondly his use of a G5 while working in the private sector, to U.S. Sens. Scott Brown and John Kerry. And there was good reason to celebrate: the planned new facility will be a $20 million, state-of-the-art service hangar, adding 100 new jobs to the company’s operations in Westfield, a nearly 80% increase in its current workforce.
Talking to BusinessWest after the event, Knapik said that Gulfstream had been looking at their other existing locations throughout the U.S. as possible sites, and he said that he was at times fearful of losing out to Appleton, Wis., the location of another Gulfstream service center.
“If you look at that location on Google Earth,” he said of the company’s facility at Outagamie County Regional Airport, “you just see how much geographic space there is there.”
But, as every one of the speakers at the ceremony mentioned, it was the existing local workforce that was the ultimate factor in Gulfstream’s decision to choose Westfield.
Also joining the mayor and governor to address the attendees were Mark Burns, president of Gulfstream Product Support; Fran Ahern, general manager of the Westfield facility; state Sen. Michael Knapik, and State Reps. John Olver and Don Humason, the latter of whom is also the chair of the Mass. Legislative Aviation Caucus.
Ahern credited his staff for their commitment to a job well done, with customer service as an equal priority. And the executives at Gulfstream had also taken notice.
“This is one of the strongest facilities that we have,” Burns said that day. “It is because of our employees. Our employee team is customer-committed to continuous improvement, and that has been a key factor in our decision to expand here.
“Throughout our product-support network, our team has continued to build and grow,” he continued. “And our customers tell us repeatedly that this team of people, and our others that service and support them every day, is the number-one product-support organization in all of business aviation.”
It isn’t often that the strength of a company’s workforce can tilt the scales in such a way, but with such sentiments as those from Gulfstream’s brass, and the tireless efforts of Westfield’s politicians, the future at Barnes just got an all clear for takeoff.
Up, Up, and Away
As a company, Gulfstream itself is ready for liftoff. The Savannah, Ga. headquarters is currently undergoing a seven-year expansion plan, estimated at $500 million, with a proposed 1,000 new jobs, increasing its size by 15%.
What started out in the late 1950s as Grumman Aircraft Engineering — with a new name inspired by the current that flows along the coast of Florida, a favored spot of then-company executives — Gulfstream jets are considered the last word in aviation. As of last year, Gulfstreams are in operation with one-quarter of all Fortune 500 companies.
Constantly updating the technical prowess of its aircraft means that Gulfstream is moving at nearly sonic speed. Actually, its two newest models, the G280 and the G650, are capable of Mach .85 and Mach .925, respectively. The company has more than 2,200 jets in service presently, Burns said, adding that that there are already 200 orders for the G650, the company’s largest, fastest, and most expensive craft.
The need for the expansion in Westfield is a direct result of this stratospheric success and the need for service for those latest models. “And simply put,” Burns said to the crowd, “we need more space. We need more hangars to work on these airplanes. And we need more technicians — highly skilled employees to help us keep these airplanes flying each and every day.”
In a printed memo from the company, Burns explained how the expansion is in direct response to the company’s high-flying success. “In the second quarter,” he wrote, “we had the largest number of orders for new aircraft since the economic downturn began. At the same time, flying hours have increased, resulting in record-setting service demand. This expansion is part of our long-range plan to ensure our service network remains well-positioned to serve our customers and our growing installed fleet.”
Groundbreaking for the new, 100,000-square-foot facility, to be built adjacent to the existing 85,000-square-foot Gulfstream branch in Westfield, is slated for next April. Burns said that the hope is for the hangar to be fully operational by early 2013, and the company is already in the process of hiring for those new jobs.
“The new 100 jobs that we’ll be adding are high-quality, high-paying jobs,” he said. “These are the kinds of jobs that lift up communities. These are the types of jobs that add to the economic base of a community — not just here in Westfield, but the surrounding communities.”
This latest good fortune at Barnes improves upon an already-solid operation. The Mass. Statewide Airport Economic Impact Study states that the airport generates $69 million of total economic output for the region.
In addition to everyone who was given credit for their efforts, and rousing rounds of applause on the day of the ceremony, Westfield city officials have been tireless in their quest to bring this expansion to the Whip City. After securing a $1.4 million Economic Development Incentive Program tax credit from Beacon Hill, Westfield passed a $4.2 million tax-incentive financing plan for Gulfstream with the goal of bringing this project to fruition. While the company will save money throughout that 15-year time period, the city can still expect to receive $4 million in new property taxes.
Additionally, Patrick announced a $3 million grant from the state DOT’s aeronautics division to the city of Westfield to, in his words, “support Gulfstream’s growth through improvements in the roadways along the airport perimeter and a new parking apron.”
And while the event in Hangar 2 had all the trappings of the standard ribbon-cutting ceremony, the VIPs and politicians were outnumbered by the men and women wearing Gulfstream uniforms. As all the men on the panel said, the city worked hard to get the new facility, as did the State House. But one of the biggest reasons for the expansion in Westfield was due to the track record that this workforce can boast.
Ahern summed up his comments at the podium by mentioning the 13 years that Gulfstream has been at Barnes, and the excellent working relationship with the city and airport managerial staff. “Our values, our internal culture of continuous improvement, our employees’ continued desire to exceed our customers’ expectations,” he added, “have all allowed us to be here today.”
In response to the jet-set brass seated next to him, Knapik finished his remarks by noting, “mostly, what I want to say to the men and women who perform the work up here is thank you. One of the consistent messages that I’d always heard from Fran and the folks at Gulfstream is how well you do your job. It is because of you that we are here today.”