It's hard to believe, but three decades have passed since the military moved out of Southport and the site was saved to continue to soar into heights of economic growth, adding to the economy of the Portage area.
Southport Aerospace chief executive officer Peggy May gathered local political officials and Southport organizations to Hangar 5 yesterday (Thursday) afternoon to celebrate Southport Aerospace's 30th anniversary.
May shares her thoughts on how things have fared so far.
"It's hard to believe that 30 years have passed already, but in honour of that, we had a Musketeer aircraft reconstructed and we're going to put it on a pedestal at the entry to our site, which is pretty exciting in itself," says May. "But really, 30 years of military that has remained here because of the original Save-The-Base program... we're still thrilled about that. But we're thinking that we're going to have many more than 30 years in our future, but it is a chance for us to celebrate and really acknowledge that Southport's still here and still doing really well."
May says they're still employing people and continuing to make a huge economic impact.
"In 1990, the military was closing the base. By 1992, we opened up as Southport Aerospace Centre Inc. with our Board of Directors and now we are a flourishing organization," continues May. "We have more than 50 employees. You know, we're making a big impact with our jobs. We have a total number of jobs of more than 970 when you look at the total impact of the site. We pay about $14 million in taxes every year, so that everybody is loving that."
She recounts through the years and talks about highlights of which they're proud.
"We've grown some things," notes May. "We added a daycare on site. We're pretty excited about that. We've increased some of the commercial tenants here on site. We've added things and added tenants as we've gone forward. The military program is continuing and growing every year. So, we're thrilled about that. And of course, the new contract will come up in 2027 where we'll sign another 20 to 25 years. So, Southport is going to stay in good shape in good hands for a long, long time to come."
May says, looking ahead, they just demolished a building on the main avenue, which served as the warehouse building for another facility.
"That location is the future home of a new mess for the new contract coming up," adds May. "We're getting ready for more growth."
Along with the unveiling of a restored Musketeer plane that sat at the opening of the Hangar for all to see during the celebration, as everyone toasted the anniversary, Colin Craddock, who accomplished the cosmetic restoration, made a fly-by in another fully-restored Musketeer and landed to greet everyone.
Mayor Irvine Ferris greeted the crowd and shared how he recalls the announcement when the military said they're moving out of Southport, at the same time when the Campbell Soup factory was closing up. He noted how concerned he was to see two huge organizations leave the area, but is now thrilled to see what has happened with Southport Aerospace while the factory virtually remains in mothballs.