Slemon Park and the aerospace industry celebrate 25 years
Creating Jobs for Islanders
Back in 1992, an aerospace industry in Prince Edward Island was just a dream.
A quarter-century later, the aerospace industry is one of the Island’s largest exporters employing over 1,000 people, and Slemon Park is the hub.
Shawn McCarvill remembers the beginning well. Now the president of Slemon Park Corporation, McCarvill was chief financial officer at the time of Slemon Park’s founding.
He says Slemon Park was born from the need to replace the hundreds of civilian and military jobs lost to the greater Summerside community when the federal government closed CFB Summerside.
“The closure was announced in 1989, Slemon Park Corporation was incorporated in 1991 and we took over the property in March 1992 – along with a five-year transitional fund,” McCarvill said.
The plan was to use the former base’s runways and hangar facilities to set up a fly-in, fly-out repair centre for aircraft. He said that aerospace and training have remained the pillars of Slemon Park’s success, but the facility has evolved even further as the years have progressed.
The original objective was to create 333 direct jobs by 1995, and it just kept going. There are over 1,000 people now working at Slemon Park– with most of those in the aerospace industry.
“The development of the aerospace industry really proved to all of us that PEI can compete in non-traditional industries,” McCarvill said. “One of the reasons companies have had success is because of the highly productive workforce on PEI.”
MDS Coatings, whose protective coatings guard against erosion and corrosion on compressors and aircraft engine parts, is among the companies that have found success at Slemon Park. Partner Phil Rodger says he has been happy with his company’s experience hiring and training Islanders for the aviation industry.
“We do a lot of training. For us the key thing is for potential candidates to have the right attitude, the willingness to join a team and to work hard,” Rodger said. “I think we have created a pretty stable work force with that.”
His company set up shop on the Island as a sister company to an existing firm in the Ottawa area. “We looked at different jurisdictions, and at that time PEI was aggressively searching for companies to set up in Slemon Park. They had a very clear vision of what they wanted the park to be and were very focused on aerospace,” he said. “Slemon Park was by far the best offer we saw.”
McCarvill said he thinks the park will be a place for ongoing improvement and diversification.
“When the base closed it was not good news, but we’ve produced something great here and the organizations that have established here have been successful in highly competitive industries. Government’s investment in this property has leveraged a great private sector commitment.”
Slemon Park has achieved a successful transition from military to civilian use in the last 25 years. Its aerospace companies, training organizations, and other key exporters, have had positive impacts on the provincial and Canadian economies, including:
- 1,000 employees working on the property, with an estimated annual payroll of $50 million
- Enabling the creation of a new industry on PEI, which demonstrated that a small island economy can succeed in fostering economic activity in ‘non-traditional’ sectors
- Establishing a hub for aerospace growth and development with a core of highly successful private sector companies
- Becoming a location of choice for long-term multinational, innovative and export driven companies, such as Vector Aerospace (now StandardAero) and Honeywell.
- Creating a recognized destination for public safety and law enforcement training as the home of the Canadian Centre of Public Safety Excellence
- Developing a full service business community including an open and accessible airport
- Developing a great residential neighbourhood of Summerside consisting of 253 homes.
Slemon Park has been able to take full advantage of its airport, significant hangar space and other former air force base assets in responding to new and emerging conditions in a global economy.