Smith Reynolds Airport has won a $4.45 million federal grant meant to pay for the repair of the building occupied by North State Aviation and allow for the creation of 200 additional jobs at the aircraft repair plant, Forsyth County officials said.
But that’s not the only economic development initiative taking place at the airport in northeastern Winston-Salem:
Forsyth Technical Community College is nearing completion on a 53,000-square-foot aviation technology lab near the airport that will provide skilled workforce training for aviation technicians and mechanics.
And a bill filed in the N.C. General Assembly would appropriate $30 million to the airport, money that can be used toward projects including new maintenance and repair hangars and taxiways.
Those new maintenance hangars could in turn generate more jobs. And, in an effort not directly connected with the airport, Forsyth County is also supporting a chamber of commerce effort to bring drone testing and research here.
The $4.45 million grant for the North State site is coming to the county from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, and is from a fund designed to offset the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
“This grant will go a long way to ensure that the infrastructure at the airport can continue to support and create jobs,” said Mark Davidson, the airport director. “The funds will go directly to a facility that is over 50 years old.”
The building occupied by North State, built in 1968, is the former headquarters and hangar of Piedmont Aviation and was later conveyed to the county and its airport authority. It has some 320,000 square feet of space and sits at the north end of the airport property.
County officials said the federal grant would be matched with a $1.6 million county investment and is expected to generate 200 new jobs, retain 100 jobs and result in $2.5 million in private investment by North State.
The work needed on the building includes stripping and painting, waterproofing, hangar door repairs, air handler refurbishment, repaving the parking lot and fire protection renovations and repairs.
Kyle Haney, the director of community and economic development for Forsyth County, said that it could take a year and a half to do all the work associated with the building upgrade.
North State officials have said they plan to add the 200 new jobs over a two-year period, Haney said.
Forsyth Tech officials see their new aviation technology facility, built overlooking the Smith Reynolds runway, as a key component in the aircraft maintenance and repair field they hope to see growing here.
Students can put their training to use at North State and other aircraft repair operations the county hopes to attract.
The college’s aviation systems technology program, which could start this fall at the new center, will give students the knowledge and skills they need to qualify for an aircraft mechanic’s certificate with airframe or power plant ratings.
“It will be a two-year program that provides 2,070 hours of instruction,” said Greg Purvis, Forsyth Tech’s aviation program coordinator. Graduates can get jobs that start at $20 an hour and find jobs both locally and elsewhere, he said.
This week, workers are still putting the final touches on the $16 million building, which is being called Forsyth Tech’s Mazie S. Woodruff Center Aviation Technology Lab. Workers are also unpacking and installing furniture and equipment for a facility where students will learn how to work with piston and turbine engines, aircraft welding, sheet metal and avionic and electrical equipment.
Davidson said the new Forsyth Tech program will be both a catalyst for growth and a help to workers and companies because of the need for qualified aviation workers.
Meanwhile, although not specifically designed to be located at Smith Reynolds, an effort to turn Winston-Salem and Forsyth County into a center for unmanned aircraft research and testing gives yet another boost to the aviation industry here.
On Thursday, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to appropriate $150,000 to Greater Winston-Salem Inc. to continue efforts on the development here of the unmanned aircraft system industry.
Studies have identified aviation and drones and other unmanned aircraft specifically as a key opportunity for local economic development. The county money will allow the chamber to work with technical regulators and do more research on what kinds of capital investments need to be made.
Those could include meeting industry requirements including radar and weather sensing equipment.
While the unmanned aircraft effort is not strictly speaking an airport project, airport officials say they have 75 acres on the north side of the airport that would be ideal for unmanned aircraft development.
Airport officials point out that Smith Reynolds is a general aviation airport equipped with a control tower in a metropolitan area, yet at the same time has regular commercial service that would interfere with unmanned aircraft operations.