The First Coast Defense Expo kicked off on Wednesday as businesses across Northeast Florida showcased the region’s commitment to the military. The event, which was sponsored by the Florida Defense Contractors Association, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, and the Jacksonville Chamber was held at Jacksonville Jetport at Cecil Airport.
The First Coast is home to several military installations including the Mayport Naval Station, Naval Air Station Jacksonville and other facilities that employ more than 50,000 personnel. A recent study of the military’s economic impact in Duval County showed almost $740 million through salaries, $860 million in pensions and transfers, $11.7 billion in sales, $1 billion in capital investment, $5.7 billion in consumptions and almost 111,000 jobs. On Wednesday, Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown said the defense industry led to more than $14 billion flowing into the local economy.
U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., who sits on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and helped organize the event, stressed the role Jacksonville and the region play in defending the country. “The First Coast is an anchor to our national security – a standing not possible without the support and expertise of our defense industrial base,” Crenshaw said. “The expo is a premiere First Coast event and will once again showcase the critical role of the defense industry to our national security and the regional economy.” Crenshaw will be speaking at the event on Thursday.
On the other side of the political aisle, Brown, a Democrat, said the community continued to welcome the military presence on the First Coast.
“Jacksonville knows the importance of providing the men and women of our armed forces with the equipment and platforms they need to accomplish their mission and return home safely,” Brown said. “Jacksonville is a military city of nearly 900,000 proud and patriotic citizens. We understand the important role our region plays in the security of our nation. We value the many local defense contractors who provide good-paying jobs that support the Defense Department and our three major local military installations.”
The event featured sponsors and exhibitors from across the nation, including more than 40 companies based in the region. Fighter jets and other aircraft were showcased at the expo.
Florida Rep. Daniel Davis, R-Jacksonville, the chairman of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, played up the importance military spending has on the First Coast’s economy.
“The defense industry plays a vital role in the mission of our armed forces, and we are thankful for the support they provide to the men and women serving locally and abroad,” said Davis, who is not running for re-election in 2014 so he can focus on his duties with the Jacksonville Chamber. “The First Coast Defense Expo is an excellent opportunity to highlight this good work and the benefits defense contractors provide to the community. Northeast Florida has a long and illustrious military tradition, and I am proud to know our region supports those who bravely serve.”
Rick Matthews, a vice president and sector lead executive for Florida business relations with Northrop Grumman, pointed toward Florida’s business climate as one of the reasons the defense industry continued to expand in the Sunshine State.