Homestead air show plan: shooting for the economic skies
By Michael Lewis
A Beacon Council-piloted launch of a hemispheric aviation and aerospace trade show has a sky-high upside.
Think of 100-plus major aviation and aerospace-related firms and governments on display here every second year for global buyers. That's the aim.
A successful vehicle would create in Miami-Dade an international hub for a whole new industry sector — with visitor industry dollars, publicity and an elite new local job base to boot.
At the same time, a show on 54 fallow acres beside Homestead Air Reserve Base would fuel new development in the south county.
Yes, the aims are spacious. The question is, how realistic?
The Miami landscape is littered with hemispheric fairs and expositions that never took place at locations that never took off.
Think of Interama in the 1950s and 1960s, with its architecturally splendid buildings for each hemispheric nation planned for the site surrounding the present Florida International University North Campus that became instead the Munisport toxic landfill.
Or the multiple plans over decades to make Watson Island an international exhibition site right where tunnels are now being bored to the seaport.
Such pitfalls lurk along the runway to success. Grand plans, even for aviation and aerospace, may never fly.
While the county this month informally agreed on $15 million funding for the plan and use of the land, that's a long way from cash in hand — and no certainty that the money would be enough.
The Beacon Council has, in fact, applied for $400,000 from the federal Economic Development Administration to not only help market the first proposed exhibition in 2012 but to see if the county's $15 million would suffice to bring the Homestead site up to par.
Then there's the 2012 first-show date, chosen as one of the great global shows, the UK-based Farnborough International Air Show, was expected to cancel its 2012 season because the Olympics in London would compete for hotel rooms. But Farnborough has merely shifted a week, so Miami in its initial year would face global competition that it expected to find safely out of the skies.
Then, flight clearance the county gave this month for funding, site and support depends on how the wind blows. There's no guarantee commissioners won't cancel the show's reservations when those with competing needs check in or, in days of recall threats, that they'll be around to vote when the air show is ready for boarding.
Finally, Miami has a spotty record in sticking to an economic development path that not everyone has signed off on — and seldom do all sign off on anything. The Beacon Council's resurrection of the 1990s One Community, One Goal team to chart a countywide economic course is a welcome effort to get that vital buy-in not only on an air show but on a broader economic game plan.
Just a handful of air and space industry shows exist. Adding Miami to that list would not only be an economic boon but would shoot down the lingering claim that while Miami is a great place to visit or to live, it can't simultaneously be a serious, cutting-edge business hub for the hemisphere.
The Beacon Council, which has been fueling this worthy effort for a year, is now approaching companies in aviation to see if they would exhibit in two years. Without them, any air show plan would crash.
There's certainly plenty to go for.
The Farnborough show just did $47 billion in orders, showed off 152 aircraft, had 100,000 public weekend visitors after a five-day closed show and lured exhibitors in 14 categories, alphabetically from airframe manufacturers, suppliers and original equipment manufacturers to unmanned aerial vehicles followed by weapons, weapons systems, defense systems and equipment.
This would be a big-league lineup, and in a county that just committed $3 billion for baseball, $15 million would be little enough to spend to lure it here. The true economic impact would be many times our investment.
The Beacon Council is moving systematically, with the head of the famed Paris Air Show on board as advisor, and has a logical flight plan. If it can get buy-in from the multi-national exhibitors, a Farnborough mid-July show shouldn't deter many visitors to a Miami exhibition staged in the dead of a Northern Hemispheric winter.
Unlike efforts at international exhibitions that never took off, this potentially game-changing Miami-Dade air show is no flight of fancy. Fasten your seat belts.