June 2018

102 103 SEBRING REGIONAL AIRPORT & COMMERCE PARK to operate a civilian airfield on the site, and on May 1, 1946, the abandoned airfield was turned over to the City of Sebring to become Sebring Air Terminal.The govern- ment also released all the old Hendricks Field proper- ties to enable any and all types of industry, trade, and air transportation to be developed there. In 1967, the city turned over the deed to the airport to the Sebring Airport Authority,which had just been formed by the Florida State Legislature.A commerce park was estab- lished in the early 1970s, and today the airport is known as the Sebring Regional Airport & Commerce Park. In addition to serving the local and transient general aviation community with commercial and T-hangars, fuel and repair services, the 1,770-acre,Sebring Regional Airport &Commerce Park is home to dozens of businesses and serves as a diversified economic engine for the county. “I’ve always felt that the airport ismore of a real estate development and the runways were more of an amenity,” says Mike Willingham, the airport’s Executive Director since 1991. “We try to attract as many airside entities as we can, and we balance that with landside, com- mercial and industrial type growth,”he explains. “We’ve done a fairly good job of doing that over the years. I believe that somewhere in the 500 full-time jobs range is what the airport and its tenants contribute to the economy of the region. We have everything from a frozen food manu- facturing plant (CitraPac, LLC), to a company that makes polystyrene, take-out food containers, (Genpak, LLC), to fertilizer manufacturing (Turf Care Supply Corporation), to one that makes very large, industrial-size drainage pipe (Advanced Drainage Systems Inc.).We even have a leather tannery at the airport (Sebring CustomTanning).” “We’re also home to Sebring International Raceway,which is a big deal for us,” adds Will- ingham.The Raceway, host of the Twelve Hours of Sebring, a world-renowned sports car endur- ance race held everyMarch since 1952, draws 150,000 spectators and occupies a portion of the airport’s old runway system. Sebring is also home to TecnamAircraft, the world’s largest manu- facturer of piston-powered aircraft.“Their plant is in Italy and they ship all of their aircraft for reassembly to Sebring and it goes from here to all points in North America, South America, and Central America.” Willingham believes that Sebring is an unusu- al facility, in that it competes, not just with like facilities in its own geographical region, but with business parks around the state, country, and even globally.“Economic development is very competitive, and I believe, if you look around at most small general aviation airports in the country, located in areas like Sebring, this airport is very atypical,”he asserts.“We have a bustling, thriving cluster of businesses of various sorts. You really don’t see that going on as you look