Scattered among the 1,100 exhibitors at the National Business Aviation Association Convention are economic development groups from about half a dozen states.
There’s North Carolina, Utah, Oklahoma, Florida, Washington and Idaho. On top of that, dozens of representatives from other states are among the 27,000 attendees of the world’s biggest business aviation convention.
They all want to lure new aviation companies and their lucrative jobs.
Jeff Fluhr, president of the Greater Wichita Partnership, knows this.
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It’s why the partnership booth, dubbed the Air Capital of the World, is so much bigger than those of other cities and states in the Las Vegas Convention Center.
“This is a very competitive marketplace in aviation,” Fluhr said of the 20-foot by 30-foot booth located next to one of the bigger names in aviation, jet engine maker Rolls Royce.
The booth serves to show representatives of non-Wichita based aviation companies the breadth of the area’s aviation industry – and its prowess.
“Because other states are very interested in aviation, they are very engaged in recruiting aviation,” Fluhr said. “So part of this is to demonstrate our prominence in the marketplace, our strength in the marketplace and that we’re very committed to keeping our companies in the state.”
The booth, designed by Image Resources Group of Wichita, features a steel, curved tower structure – “So no matter where you are in the exhibit hall you see Wichita,” Fluhr said – flanked on two sides by murals of a Bombardier Learjet 75 and a Cessna Citation business jet and Beechcraft King Air turboprop with a massive video screen in the center.
The screen flashes a variety of messages and videos featuring the city and manufacturers Bombardier and Textron Aviation. On Tuesday and Wednesday at the show, the partnership planned to host a happy hour at the Wichita booth as well as what organizers called “air shows” – videos featuring Bombardier and Textron Aviation in Wichita.
The partnership also created a website for this year’s NBAA, aircapitaloftheworld.com, to refer visitors to the booth and to provide potential new companies with an avenue to contact economic development officials.
The partnership and the Kansas Department of Commerce worked together to create the booth, Fluhr said.
“Aviation is ... a major driver of the Kansas economy, accounting for more than $4 billion of state GDP and delivering more than 20 percent of our total exports,” said Kevin Doel, commerce department spokesman. Participating in NBAA enables the state to build existing relationships and start new ones “to promote the state’s unique aviation assets, including workforce, supply chain, and R&D resources and capabilities.”
Costs of the booth, convention fees and its promotion were $100,000. They are largely paid for by the partnership, a public-private economic development group, and the commerce department, Fluhr said.
The booth also provides space for 12 co-exhibitors, Wichita-area aviation suppliers and service companies as well as organizations such as the Wichita Airport Authority, Harvey County Economic Development and the Wichita Aero Club.
Jaimie Garnett, executive vice president of strategic communications for the partnership, said the cost for co-exhibitors ranges from $2,500 to $15,000, depending on their space needs. It is paid for through cash, in-kind sponsorships or a combination of the two, Fluhr said.
Paul O’Neill, vice president of business and product development for aviation supplier Omni Aerospace in Wichita, said this is his company’s third year as a co-exhibitor at the NBAA booth.
“It’s all set up for us,” O’Neill said. “All you have to do is show up, which is very nice.”
O’Neill said his company has developed new business from exhibiting at the Wichita booth. The only other option, he said, would be to have “a small table in a corner” of the exhibition hall or “be with Wichita in a big booth.”
“Some of these booths people set up, it’s a $500,000 booth,” he said. “It’s a good value proposition for us.”
Although the booth presents companies like Omni Aerospace with the chance to exhibit at NBAA at a fraction of the cost, Fluhr said its bigger purpose should not be overlooked: to promote the region’s base of skilled aerospace workers and companies as well as to serve as a recruitment tool for more and new aviation jobs.
In the end, he said, it’s all about jobs.
“This whole activity we’re doing right now is about job creation, it’s about expanding companies, and this is a great venue to be able to do that,” he said.