Jason White hopes D’Shannon Aviation, which relocated its aircraft engine overhauling operations from Minnesota to Oshkosh, is the first of many new aviation companies to call the city home.
“We’re looking to make Oshkosh a destination location for businesses interested in aero-innovation,” said White, the executive director of Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp. (GOEDC), Oshkosh’s economic development corporation.
The key to making Oshkosh “the” place for aviation is a newly-created aviation business park, a joint project between the city and Winnebago County. Adjacent to Wittman Airport, the 80-acre park offers 30 acres of city-owned land and 50 acres of county-owned land. Businesses on the county-owned land will have direct access to a taxiway at Wittman. City crews have started working on the park’s infrastructure. Once that’s in place, businesses – like D’Shannon Aviation – can begin building.
The idea for the park has been kicked around for years, said Meredith Jaeger, founder of AeroInnovate, an organization started by UW-Oshkosh employees looking to help people bring new aero-technologies to market and grow aero-related businesses. But it wasn’t until a string of layoffs at the city’s major employer, Oshkosh Truck, that the idea took off.
The East Central Wisconsin Planning Commission conducted a study to look at the area and identify other potential industries to develop. One sector that rose to the top was aviation. Oshkosh is already well known as the home of the Experimental Aircraft Association and already had several aviation businesses, including Sonex Aircraft LLC and Basler Turbo Conversions.
“From my work with AeroInnovate, I heard from companies who wanted to come here, but there wasn’t the available space,” Jaeger said. “The park changes that.”
Since making its move in late 2014, D’Shannon Aviation, which focuses on engine overhauls and aftermarket parts for Beechcraft airplanes, has worked in a hangar at Wittman Airport and partnered with local fabrication companies to make parts. Owner Scott Erickson said the company will build in the new business park and eventually employ between 30 and 40 local employees. The proximity to other aviation businesses drew the company to Oshkosh, he said.
Last summer, White met with 70 to 90 leaders from aviation companies to determine their interest in relocating or expanding their operations to Oshkosh.
“There is a lot of interest out there and there are businesses, whether they are suppliers or service providers, who want to be closer to this kind of activity,” he said.
Jaeger said the new aviation park isn’t operating in a vacuum; other airports in the region are part of an overall planning process to bring aviation-focused businesses to the region.
“We’ve had support from the Fond du Lac, Appleton and Green Bay airports. Each one has something different to offer and understands that a win for one airport is a win for the whole region,” she said.
Beyond the region, GOEDC and Jaeger are looking to connect aviation-themed businesses from throughout the state via Wisconsin Aerospace Partners, which draws attention to the many businesses involved in the aviation supply chain.
“We have manufacturers in the Fox Valley that work in aviation as well as companies in the Milwaukee area that focus on controllers” Jaeger said. “We’re trying to find a way to unite everyone in the industry under one umbrella.”