Defense contractors with sky-high anxiety about the future level of federal spending will gather Wednesday in Jacksonville for the inaugural First Coast Defense Expo.
U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw will be joined by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll and Mayor Alvin Brown at Cecil Airport, the former Navy airfield that has filled hangars by attracting companies that carry out defense contracts.
“A lot of companies here in Northeast Florida play a central role in protecting our national security, and they create jobs,” Crenshaw, R-Jacksonville, said. “They keep the economy moving.”
The expo will be the latest defense-related event that shines a spotlight on how looming reductions in defense spending could hurt Florida’s economy by costing tens of thousands of jobs. Defense contractors have been at the forefront of that public relations campaign.
Brown and Gov. Rick Scott have also spoken against the 10-year, $500 million in defense cuts set to start in January.
Congress agreed last year to “sequester” that amount of money, along with an equal amount of cuts in social programs, in order to push congressional leaders for a compromise deficit-reduction plan.
But Congress couldn’t reach agreement on a deal, so the sequestration is set to take effect unless there is an agreement.
“That’s going to be staring us in the face,” Crenshaw said. “I can’t believe that Congress is going to allow that to happen, but there are people in Congress who wonder why do we spend so much money on the military. It’s going to be a major battle when we go back in that lame-duck session.”
Joe Marino, president of the Florida League of Defense Contractors, said the Jacksonville expo is the first time the organization has put on such an event.
“As a group, we’re going to use it as a test case and export it to the rest of the state,” he said.
The Jacksonville Aviation Authority is helping to host the event but isn’t contributing any financial support for it.
Aviation authority spokesman Michael Stewart said it’s a “tremendous opportunity for smaller contractors to interact with large defense contractors.”
The expo has already sold out all the tickets that cover food for attendees. But the event is offering free admission, albeit without food.
Advance tickets can be obtained by going to fcdexpo.eventbrite.com/.
The expo is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Crenshaw will speak at 12:30 p.m. during a lunch session.
A discussion session from 3 to 4 p.m. featuring Crenshaw, Carroll, Brown, former U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi and industry leaders will focus on the connection between defense spending and economic development.
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