It started with a conversation, which lead to a thought, which resulted in a plan. In no time at all that process caused an email to be drafted and sent to approximately a dozen hopefully receptive recipients. That was the start of the Polk Aviation Alliance, a diverse group of aviation professionals who have committed themselves to working together, collaboratively, to maximize the economic benefits of aviation to Polk County, Florida.
All four of the county’s municipally owned airports were represented at the first meeting, as were both SUN ’n FUN and Fantasy of Flight.
But the focus didn’t stop with airports and tourism draws. The alliance branched out to include traditional education with representation from the Central Florida Aerospace Academy, a public high school that focuses on aviation as a career, and Polk State College, which has introduced a pilot science degree program, with plans to expand its aviation offerings in the coming semesters.
Within a year of forming, the quarterly lunchtime meeting had grown to include governmental entities, economic development people, engineering firms, and the Seaplane Pilots Association (SPA). More individuals arrive with each subsequent meeting, and the long-term planning for success has become a central focus of the group.
“Being a part of the Polk Aviation Alliance really allows the SPA to serve as a role model for how aviation entities can come together for the benefit of aviation as a whole,” says Steve McCaughey, executive director of the Seaplane Pilots Association. He’s right, too. It’s that attitude of cooperation and collaboration that allows the various representatives to get together and work effectively to affect change.
“Every one of the alliance members brings something to the table for us,” says McCaughey. “And we hope we bring something important to the table for them, too.”
By gathering together a collection of highly professional, well-intentioned people who have expertise in a specific area of a diverse field of endeavor, the alliance is able to offer each entity a greater impact on the local economy and political representatives than it would normally enjoy on its own. That is a facet of membership McCaughey and his fellow alliance members enjoy immensely.
“By being a part of the alliance we can bring the value of seaplane flying to a pre-qualified assortment of aviation enthusiasts,” says McCaughey.
He has a valid point there, too. Considering that SUN ’n FUN holds the second largest aviation gathering in North America, and Fantasy of Flight hosts the annual Splash-In associated with the fly-in, and Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base is an icon of seaplane activity, it makes perfect sense for the Seaplane Pilots Association to take a stand on behalf of the economic, educational, and recreational benefits of a type of flying of which their membership demonstrates themselves to be tremendously knowledgable.
Might it be possible to add a seaplane course to Polk State College’s new aerospace degree programs? Certainly the people with the answers to that question sit around the table at every alliance meeting. And that’s just one example of how the organization could lead to a more vibrant and robust aviation presence in the county. That’s certainly reason enough to break bread together now and then to discuss the available opportunities and consider how to make the most of them.
If there is strength in numbers, and all indications suggest that to be the case, then the Polk Aviation Alliance is headed in the right direction.
I mention all this for at least two reasons. Sure, there are considerably more than two reasons to share a success story like this in print. But one reason worth sharing it is that it illustrates how an organization like the Seaplane Pilots Association can serve in a leadership role and bring economic benefits to a wide geographic area, even without insisting that its own focus (seaplane activities) be the primary driver of any initiative.
Second, there is nothing about this story that is central Florida specific. The alliance could have been formed anywhere. But it happened in central Florida, where the players were all ready to take the next step, to expand their horizons, and to seek out willing, motivated partners to work with.
As a point of interest, you might find it worth knowing that Polk County, Florida, is not a small dot on the map. It is considerably larger than Rhode Island. It’s nearly as big as Delaware. As counties go, this one’s a whopper, covering more than 2,000 square miles. It also has the distinction of being located in the geographic center of a state that is particularly friendly to general aviation.
As the alliance grows and continues to find new ways to support and promote aviation in and outside of Florida, the question remains whether others will take a page from their book and start alliances of their own?
There is a model for success. It is currently in existence in the heart of Florida. Here’s hoping there are many who will take note and use it as a template to start their own alliances — for the betterment of aviation in general and their own communities as well.