Embraer Poised to be Cornerstone of County’s Next Great Business Sector

by Eric Wright

Draping the almost sterile environment of the assembly corridor of Embraer’s manufacturing facility at Melbourne International Airport (MLB), where their sleek Phenom 100 corporate jets are lined up in various stages of assembly, hang the flags of the United States and Brazil.  Phil Krull, the Managing Director who oversees the manufacturing and engineering operations at the facility, explained the significance, “Embraer is to Brazilians what NASA is to Americans.  It is their contribution to man’s progress in aerospace.  And to have Embraer’s first U.S. assembly plant in Florida, only adds to their enthusiasm.”   Next to the United Kingdom, more tourists come to Florida from Brazil than any other nation and our county’s historic position as the Space Coast makes the location of Embraer’s American home even more significant.

When plans were announced for Embraer’s production facility and customer service center to be located in Melbourne back in 2008, it was like finding an oasis on the desert landscape of our post Shuttle economy.  Within a few years, it meant 200 high paying jobs of which over 90 percent were filled with people from Brevard County.  Then in March of this year, the aviation giant unveiled plans to add a $24 million engineering center to its operations at MLB, which would grow to include work related to the design, certification and production of the company’s aircraft.

Florida Governor Rick Scott, along with his commerce secretary Gray Swoope, came for the announcement and commented, “Embraer’s continued investment in Florida is evidence we are doing the right things to attract job-growing businesses.  Our Job Creation and Economic Development Agenda will make Florida even more attractive to companies looking to move or expand in a business-friendly state like ours.”  Then he added, “This is a game changer.”

He wasn’t alone in his enthusiasm, Richard A. Ennis, MLB executive director, beamed, “This new engineering center solidifies Embraer’s presence on the Space Coast and continues the momentum to make Melbourne International Airport the hub of Embraer’s North American operations.”

Bringing the Experience Closer

A game changer indeed, agreed Frank DiBello, the president of Space Florida, who said: “The engineering center will help put Brevard on par with Wichita, KS and Savannah, GA, in terms of aviation design.”  The new 63,500-square-foot center, which adds to the existing 150,000 square-foot final assembly facility for the Phenom 100 and its big brother the Phenom 300 Executive Jets, makes a powerful statement about this area’s future.

Currently, Embraer occupies only 40 of the nearly 150 acres that have been designated for their growth.  But since MLB is not only home to the manufacturing and design center, but also to Embraer’s corporate headquarters for this part of the world, it stands to reason that other businesses will one day be attracted to the sight as well.  These could include companies that supply components to Embraer and perhaps a service center, though at this time we can only speculate.

Ernest (Ernie) Edwards, serves as president of Executive Aircraft for the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.  He explained that “one of the reasons we opened this facility was because of the customer-centric culture that permeates Embraer.  We wanted to bring operations and the Embraer experience closer to our clients.  Even in this recession, the U.S. market represents about 43 percent of all executive jet deliveries in the world – in a healthy economy it could be as much as 50 percent.  Embraer’s global goal is to capture 20 percent of the worldwide business jet market.”  This objective would translate into Embraer delivering about 160 aircraft a year.  The facility here is quickly moving toward the goal of producing 96 aircraft annually, as the Phenom 300 soon comes on line.  These ambitious, but attainable, projections will mean adding a second shift to the production line in the near future.

Why Here?                                                                   

However, there were other factors that brought the company to our community.  Having a highly skilled and readily available workforce was, of course, a primary consideration.  But Edwards sights other significant elements: “There were several sights that Embraer visited and evaluated.  But to summarize it all, it was the total package that Melbourne offered our company.  First was the location, the proximity to world class tourist destinations in Orlando and Kennedy Space Center, making it an attractive stopover for clients who are visiting the area.  Secondly, was the sight, positioned on the airport and the airport leadership itself, the City of Melbourne and their planners, the County and the State of Florida.  Everyone exhibited such a spirit of cooperation and the attitude that, ‘If you should choose us as a location, you will receive our full cooperation as you build and establish your company here.’  They were very convincing of that.  And they have lived up to every single word that they committed themselves to.”

Incentives offered by the airport were significant, including renovating and making available a temporary facility at the airport, rent free, for up to 18 months, while the new engineering center is being constructed.  Renovations to the 25,000-square-foot building, formerly used by Northrop Grumman, will cost about $240,000.  However, by providing these incentives, Embraer can expedite its hiring of engineering staff.  The total staff needed at the new facility will be around 200 with an average annual salary of $70,000, which translates into a $14 million annual infusion into the county.

“We couldn’t be happier here,” Edwards said smiling.  “If we weren’t totally satisfied we wouldn’t have announced this would be the location of our new R & D facility.  They have fulfilled their part of the bargain and we have fulfilled our part; when you establish a relationship like that, you go, ‘We absolutely made the right choice in locating here.’”

From Who? To Who’s Who?                                                                                                          

Robert Knebel, Vice President of Sales for North America, explains that though their name is not as familiar to the general public as perhaps Boeing or General Dynamics, “within the aviation world we are the ‘buzz’ across the industry.  That can be attributed to the success of our products and the investment we are making here in Florida.  On the commercial side, we are already the dominant player in the regional jet market.  However, that broad based name recognition is climbing steadily.”

Phil Krull, Ernest Edwards and Robert Knebel at the Melbourne facility, Embraer,s first U.S. assembly plant in Florida.

Edwards, who seemed to be able to envision an aircraft’s potential by looking over its specifications, just like an America’s Cup yachtsman can predict the speed of a sailboat by looking at its hull, said he realized the potential Embraer’s products had back in 2001 while working for Gulfstream.  Knebel agreed, saying, “Our jets are the best value in the market today,” then quickly qualified, “Not the least expensive, but we have the product that will meet our clients’ expectations.”

Knebel  is responsible for leading the team that is tasked not only with reaching Embraer’s ambitious sales goals, but as he explained, “For providing that customer experience, whether that is making the initial decision about a product to deciding on specifications they have for their particular aircraft.  During that process they are here in Melbourne several times right up to the time of delivery.”

Reflecting on the area he adds, “We are still getting acquainted with all the amenities that make this community unique.  But what stands out immediately is how hospitable the people here are and how comfortable this area is with meeting and welcoming people from all over the world.  They are warm and embracing, not only of us, but of our customers.”

It’s Like Launching a Space Shuttle                                                                                                     

The delight in their product is evident in everyone working at Embraer and that enthusiasm breaks into cheers and high-fives as the team watches when a plane takes off for delivery.  One person even compared it to watching the launch of a Space Shuttle.  “Handing over an aircraft to an owner is a moment of great pride for a manufacturer,” Knebel was quoted as saying.  “Delivering our first U.S.-made Phenom 100 to Executive AirShare, our first U.S. customer, takes the celebration to a whole new level.”

Soon, eight times a month, Embraer’s employees will stand in awe as their handiwork rolls onto the runway at MLB, accelerates and then climbs into the sky over the Space Coast.  For a county that is still grieving over the end of our nation’s Space Shuttle program, that sense of celebration is something all of us can share in!