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Posted: 8/23/2004 2:24:59 PM EDT
Posted on Mon, Aug. 23, 2004

Governor attends Jacksonville Embraer factory groundbreaking

Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - At a former military base where Navy jets once roared, a Brazilian aircraft company broke ground Monday with Lockheed Martin Corp. for a factory to build spy jets for the Army.

The Embraer factory at Cecil Commerce Center, the former Cecil Field Naval Air Station, will initially employ about 200 workers in high tech jobs paying in excess of $40,000 a year, the company said.

Gov. Jeb Bush, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton joined Embraer President Mauricio Novis Botelho and Lockheed Martin President Robert J. Stevens at the ceremony.

Embraer will use its ERJ 145 regional jet platform to build a spy plane known as the Aerial Common Sensor System. The system will pack a variety of sensors into an airplane designed to monitor enemy communications, radar systems and troop movements.

Bush called the Cecil Commerce Center, former home of FA18 jet fighters, "one of Florida's jewels in the economic development world."

The new jet, Nelson said, "will provide a tactical view of the battlefield for a tactical commanders in real time to make decisions." In addition, Nelson said the new aircraft will play an active role in homeland defense.

Earlier this month, Lockheed Martin was awarded $879 million to develop the aircraft.

The contract calls for Lockheed to develop and test the plane. Future contracts will cover the purchase of the operational model of the aircraft, estimated to be about $20 million each.

The Army plans to buy 38 of the aircraft for about $7 billion. The Navy also has expressed an interest in 19 of the aircraft.

Design and development work on the plane is expected to begin next summer with the system going into full production in 2007.

"We are here to stay and develop," said Botelho.

Local, state and federal agencies have contributed $10.8 million to build Embraer a facility and provide employee training on the 40-acre site. The factory will include 71,000 square feet of shop and office space.

Embraer, with headquarters in San Paulo, Brazil, has a 35 years of experience in the aircraft business and has operations in Australia, China, France, Singapore and the United States. As of June 30, Embraer had a total work force of 14,200 employees and its firm order backlog totaled $10.5 billion.

Lockheed beat rival defense contractor Northrop Grumman for its part of the contract.

The groundbreaking came on the heels of an announcement by Bush on Friday that Florida continues to lead the nation in job growth. According to the Agency for Workforce Innovation, Florida added 163,200 jobs from July 2003 to July 2004, or a growth rate of 2.2 percent.

Florida's July 2004 unemployment rate was 4.4 percent, well below 5.2 percent a year ago and 1.1 percentage points below the national average of 5.5 percent.
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