Missouri Governor Mike Parson was in Ozark to visit an aircraft parts businesses set to bring jobs and above-average wages to Christian County.
On Oct. 3, Parson heard presentations on Alpine Aviation and its potential partnership with the Ozark School District.
Parson said he is proud of Missouri’s low unemployment rate of 3.2 percent. However, many Missourians lack quality jobs, and many companies lack quality workers.
“But it’s hard to get good employees,” Parson said.
Parson lauded the Missouri General Assembly and its work with the executive branch of the state government that he says brought $4 billion in new investment in Missouri businesses in the past year.
“We’re really trying to go after businesses more aggressive in Missouri than we have in a long time. Not only are we going after them, but we’re putting money on the line,” Parson said. “The reality of it is it is a competitive market out there.”
Alpine Aviation Director of Operations Terry Cedar gave the governor a rundown on what’s next for the company, which is located in a building on West Jackson Street that once housed the Fasco manufacturing plant before it closed in 2002. Soon, it will be bustling with employees making digital harnesses for military helicopters.
“I’ve built my upper management, and here in 30-45 days, we’re going to start receiving wire and parts, and then we’re going to start hiring out fabricators. We’ll start the first wave with 10, and shortly after that we’ll start working on 30,” Cedar said.
Alpine Aviation won a government contract to make prototype harnesses to update outdated technology in Army and Army National Guard helicopters.
“All of the aircraft right now is analog,” Cedar said. “They’re going to bring everything back up and put it into digital.”
The Ozark site will house 42 fabrication boards. Each helicopter contains about 16 miles of wire.
Show Me Christian County is an economic development organization funded by a partnership of city governments and the Christian County Commission. Cedar said Show Me Christian County Director Andrea Sitzes played a key part in convincing Alpine Aviation to look outside of Springfield and into Christian County for the site of their harness manufacturing facility.
Sitzes said Alpine Aviation brings quality work and competitive wages to Ozark.
“What they brought here was a yearly average wage that’s nearly $40,000 above our county average wage,” Sitzes said, adding that an estimated 75-80 percent of Christian County’s population travels outside of the county for work, which may work to drive down the average wages paid to employees of Christian County-based businesses.
“It was wonderful to have such a great partner that’s brining in those high wage jobs,” Sitzes said.
Cedar said that Alpine Aviation pays 100 percent of each full-time employee’s health insurance costs. A fabricator with five years of experience will start at $30 per hour at Alpine.
“I don’t think we’re going to have a lot of turnover, and that’s what’s going to help. If we don’t have the turnover, we can make bundles over, and over and over again and get better at it, and keep our employees happy here,” Cedar said.
Parson asked where Alpine Aviation will be buying the wire, connectors and other components for its harnesses from.
The short answer to the governor’s question, Cedar said, is a company in Kentucky. In the immediate future, Alpine is dealing with a company that is proven in the aviation industry, where lead time on some components can be long. Cedar said Alpine’s Ozark operation has to succeed in the short term before a stable operation can grow in Ozark over a period of a 15-year contract with the U.S. Army.
“My goal really has to be that we need to succeed in this two and a half years. We have to tell the government right now, the Army, that we can supply 36 aircraft a year. That’s a lot of wire, that’s a lot of parts, that’s a lot of product going out the door,” Cedar said. “If we fail at this two and a half years, we probably will not be looked at for the 15 years. We really have to stand up.”
The visit also served as an opportunity for a briefing on an education program called GO CAPS, the Greater Ozarks Centers for Advanced Professional Studies.
Ozark Assistant Superintendent Craig Carson gave a short presentation on GO CAPS. Ozark is one of 17 southwest Missouri school districts that places students with industry leaders of all types in a way that the students work internships for credit and experience.
“These kinds of partnerships are what we’re really looking at to keep our students a step ahead of others, save time, money, energy and effort for their parents and for the student, and hopefully we keep them here eventually to raise kids here in our area,” Carson said.
At least 105 Ozark High School students have been through the program.
“Our goal for our GO CAPS program is to listen to business needs and respond quickly to those needs, and not be tied up in curriculum somewhere,” Carson said. “We want our students to be prepared for the workforce, to learn those soft skills that businesses say they need, but really what many businesses say is they just want talent.”
The governor applauded Ozark’s involvement with the GO CAPS program and its potential to put students to work at Alpine Aviation.
“It’s the first time in a long time I’ve seen K-12 (schools), government, per se, and the private sector really working together, and I think there is that pressure on all of us, as to produce these kids to give them a shot at the workforce,” Parson said.
The Ozark School District bought the former Fasco building in July 2019, and will honor Alpine’s lease for the next two and a half years.
“For now, we’ve got home,” Cedar said.
“And our hope is to keep you here,” Ozark Superintendent Chris Bauman said.
“We want to keep it here in Missouri,” Cedar said.