Abbotsford is back on the aerospace trade show stage in a big way this week, as it hosts what organizers call the most significant aerospace and defence exposition in Western Canada.
The one-day 2012 Abbotsford Aerospace and Defence Expo that brought dozens of high-tech and other regional firms together with international companies began with a mayor’s reception dinner Wednesday night, then was open for business from morning till night on Thursday at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
Minister of state for western diversification Lynne Yelich spoke at the breakfast Thursday about the economic opportunities for the region.
Abbotsford and the west wants to tap into the $20 billion to $30 billion in annual aerospace contracts that till now have gone mostly to the established sector community in the east, said Jean-Paul Laube, the business development manager for the Abbotsford International Airport.
The trade show is a way of pulling together a “fragmented” aerospace community in the West to make a serious efforts at attracting international firms, said Laube.
The Western Diversification Fund provided $75,000 to the expo, and the agency is working to support marine, air and defence sectors grow in the West, Yelich said.
The minister of state also noted the federal industrial regional benefits policy, which drives private dollars back into the Canadian economy, could leverage key support for western aerospace firms.
“As our government is one of the major purchasers of aerospace, defence and marine equipment, we want to make sure those important investments result in jobs and growth for all Canadian companies,” Yelich said.
“Our government’s IRB policy requires that companies who have been successfully awarded contracts on federal procurement projects must undertake business activities in Canada that are equal in value to the contract.”
She said there are also opportunities in the field for smaller to medium businesses, which can access WD loans and tap into a future federal innovation fund for technology.
Smaller companies can provide items “from carpets to wing tips. It’s surprising how many parts there are in a F-35 [fighter jet],” she said.
Yelich spent much of the day meeting with regional business leaders at the expo.
The Abbotsford International Airport Authority and the city intend to make the trade show an annual event, in hopes of luring businesses and jobs to a planned 6.3-hectare aerospace industrial park on the airport grounds.
To entice firms, the City of Abbotsford has a 10-year tax relief program for new development at the airport. Companies with construction projects worth $100,000 or more will get 100 per cent tax relief on the first year, then pay an incremental 10 per cent tax increase each year until it is paying its full tax bill at the end of 10 years.
Other incentives include “progressive” approaches to development cost charges with respect to airport development, and long-term leases arranged with the airport authority.
Mayor Bruce Banman said in order to compete with other nations, and even eastern Canada, Abbotsford has to offer aggressive incentives to aerospace if it is serious about developing the sector. There are about 100 hectares of ‘airport lands’ ready and waiting for industrial development.
“Other places are doing this. Our aerospace industry is not isolated from other countries, particularly the United States, and they will do anything to get contracts,” he said. Aerospace companies are particularly attractive as it’s not uncommon for them to secure contracts that are 20 to 30 years or longer, and that provides long-term security, he said.
“The aerospace industry also has great jobs,” that are highly skilled and well-paid, he added.
Banman said Cascade Aerospace, an aircraft refitting and engineering firm at the airport, which creates as much in wages on its five hectares as the entire agriculture sector does in Abbotsford.
Exhibitors at the trade expo included the University of the Fraser Valley, which has an aerospace trades program, the Vancouver Institute for Visual Analytics, Richmond-based Corvu Energy, Avcorp, federal government agencies, Weatherhaven shelters, and even Staples.
Laube said smaller aerospace networking events were held in the past two years at UFV, with about 80 participants in the first and double that in the second year.
However, it was time to take the annual gathering up to a new level, he said, so Abbotsford worked with Western Diversification to unify the sector in the region, and to draw international participants to this year’s trade show.
By pursuing clients more aggressively, Laube said the airport and the city hope to tap into the billions in contracts that go to eastern Canada, particularly to Quebec, and elsewhere.
Abbotsford first feted aerospace and defence companies in 1991 when, in conjunction with the annual airshow, it launched the Airshow Canada expo, for which the Tradex building was originally built. The program fell by the wayside, even as the aerospace industry has continued to build a strong foundation in Abbotsford. Cascade Aerospace, Conair, Chinook Helicopters, Marshall Aerospace, UFV and others are a few of the significant residents at the airport.
This new trade show will continue in the years to come, said the city’s general manager Jay Teichroeb.
“We’d like to see it become the western Canada equivalent of the national [air and defence] show that happens every year in Ottawa,” he said.
While the Abbotsford International Airshow is the big attraction for three days, the trade show will have long-lasting impacts on the city, he added.
“There will be big contracts that will be done here today,” said Teichroeb.
For more on development plans at the airport, see www.abbotsfordairport.ca.