by Patrick Evans-Hylton
The age of rockets was exciting and new six decades ago when the stretch of sand and surf from Volusia County southward to Cape Canaveral began opening up to NASA and other manufacturers active in the space race.
Ideally located to take advantage of orbital velocity and fuel efficiency, what became known as the Space Coast developed into an attractive place for many in the aviation and aerospace industry to do business. And, although some of the dynamics have shifted and other manufacturers are calling the region home, it’s still all about location, location, location.
“We’re a diverse manufacturing community,” says Jayne Fifer, president and CEO of Volusia Manufacturers Association. “We have the logistics: I-4, I-95, railroads. It’s all strong and connected with our local manufacturers association. Just one phone call gets you to the people and information that you need.”
VMA was founded in 1980 and includes a wide range of businesses from those with a single employee to companies with more than 500 on staff. And although many companies in the area are focused on the aviation and aerospace industry, VMA’s membership includes a diverse group of industries.
“Manufacturers provide substantial jobs with above average pay with benefits to over 11,000 people in the area,” said Fifer.
That’s in addition to contributions made to the tax base of the county.
According to Team Volusia, Greater Daytona Region’s Economic Development Corporation, there are 28 aviation/aerospace companies in the region and more than 400 manufacturers. The metropolitan statistical area also includes five airports, including Daytona Beach International, which features commercial aviation service.
A big draw for business is Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, a world leader in aviation and aerospace education offering more than 40 degree programs. Located adjacent to Daytona Beach International, the school has runway access there.
On site is the Volusia Tech Hub, which is affiliated with Volusia County Business Incubator Powered by UCF Business Incubator Program, as well as the NextGen Test Bed which focuses on the modernization of the National Airspace System.
An important component for manufacturing growth in the aviation and aerospace field is the MicaPlex at the Research Park at Embry-Riddle. The incubator space allows collaborative opportunities for businesses and the university to develop and work on new products and technological services to bring to market.
Two manufacturers with ties to the aviation and aerospace community taking advantage of what the county has to offer are Arralis Technologies and S&B Metal Products. Arralis is a newcomer, while S&B put down roots almost a decade ago.
Arralis Technologies is a leader in advanced millimetre wave technology, serving communications, satellite, aerospace and defence markets. Founded in Ireland in 2013 by Mike Gleaves and Barry Lunn, today the company has operations in Ireland, the UK as well as Volusia County.
“Throughout the years we’ve done various small contracts with some U.S. based companies and about a year-and-a-half ago, Mike Gleaves, our president, decided he wanted to open a U.S. operation,” says Emilie Wren, vice president of U.S. operations.
The company considered a move to Sarasota but Daytona won out due to the close proximity to Cape Canaveral.
Starting with a partnership with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at the MicaPlex, Wren said the location was the selling point.
“We help provide the communications between the earth and the satellites,” says Wren. “We provide the link between the uplink and the downlink, so the piece that connects space to the group is what we provide for the satellite.
“We are close to where the satellites are going up, and it’s nice to be close to our potential customers.”
Globally Arralis employs around 40 people, but COVID has delayed hiring engineers in Volusia for the time being.
“We just opened here earlier this year, but we can’t hire right now because we can’t send engineers to the UK for training,” says Wren. “So for now I am the only employee, but once travel opens back up, I will be hiring at least five engineers and additional testing technicians.”
While the pandemic has hampered opening plans, Wren says the company is still happy to be in Volusia.
“We are excited to be here in our 4,000-square- foot facility,” she says. “We will be getting that in full operation by the end of 2021 along with the machines we are ordering. We do have a permanent space here, and we’ve signed a five-year lease. We are excited to continue to grow.”
S&B METAL PRODUCTS
S&B Metal Products started in Macedonia, Ohio in 1974, expanding several times to Florida over the years––first to Lakeland in 1986, then to Bradenton in 1998.
“In 2002, we opened a facility in Daytona Beach,” says Brent Cessna, vice president of operations for the East Florida division. “We like doing business in Volusia County. It is perfectly situated on the intersection of I-95 and I-4 corridors.
“And we are able to service the Space Coast and the many business opportunities that it offers, which include airport support equipment and first responder/military vehicles.”
Those are some of the items that S&B Metal Products of East Florida makes.
“We supply component parts to the production of airport support equipment and component parts for first responder vehicles,” says Cessna. “Although those are the two biggest industries served, we also service other industries such as bottling/capping, the food industry, and the pet care industry as well.
“We are a full-service manufacturing company with laser, bend, saw, machining, welding, and painting capabilities. In addition, we are American owned and proudly support other American businesses.”
Cessna says the company is in a 15,000-square-foot manufacturing facility that employs 15-20 employees at any given time.
“The future is bright for manufacturing in Volusia County,” says VMA’s Jayne Fifer.
Indeed, with the location of aerospace businesses along the Space Coast, and transportation infrastructure along the I-4 and I-95 corridors, the door is open wide to attract new companies from across the United States and the globe.
Only outer space seems to be the limit.
Patrick Evans-Hylton is an award-winning journalist, having covering a wide variety of topics in broadcast, electronic, and print media since 1995.