The year was 1606. King James of England (and Scotland) boldly authorized a group of entrepreneurial types to cross the Atlantic in a leaky wooden boat in search of gold, timber, and a route across the New World to the Pacific, by water.
The party consisted of 104 brave souls, all bent on bettering their positions in life. They came west to become wealthy, or wealthier, before returning home to England, civility, and the latest fashions.
For some, the experiment worked out. For many it did not.
Yet, whatever the outcome, the original British Invasion had begun and there was no stopping the trend. It’s still going on today. The New World is the place to be, baby.
Newcomers still arrive on our shores, following the money. Or at least the promise of money. Plenty of noblemen and untold numbers of peasants have waded ashore, either literally or figuratively, shouting their native equivalent of, “There’s gold in them thar hills, and we’re going to find it.”
Money is an aphrodisiac like no other. The promise of significant earnings will bring people out of the woodwork.
If you doubt me, I suggest you experience a rousing game of three-card monty the next time you’re in New York City. They’re easy to find. Typically they involve a cardboard box that serves as a tabletop, a crowd of suckers gathered around it, and a man with quick fingers who suddenly disappears around the nearest corner on fleet feet with all your money.
It was with this deep belief in the power of economics that I slipped into a suit last week to attend the annual meeting of the Central Florida Development Council. As a former city commissioner, I knew many of the faces in the room. There were elected officials, of course, as there always are when the topic of money comes up.
More importantly perhaps, administrators from the area’s colleges were in attendance, as were the management teams of major employers from theme parks, to agricultural entities, to medical centers, and utility providers.
Just as in the days of Jamestown, the luminaries of the region came out to join forces, share information, network vigorously, and find ways to make next year more productive and profitable than last year.
It will come as no surprise to you that general aviation was not on the tip of every tongue. Although many of the individuals in the room have used, and may use, general aviation as a tool of great value to them personally and professionally, most don’t think about general aviation when they gather to discuss economics.
What a shame. The oversight was not unexpected, but it remains unwarranted. Especially in light of the keynote speaker for the evening.
Major General H.D. Polumbo Jr., recently retired from the United States Air Force. With stick time in F-16s and having flown the U-2 into the theater of combat, Major General Columbo knows a thing or two about aviation, the people who make the technology work, and the organizational structures that are required to achieve true success. He outlined some of his experiences, taking special care to point out the tremendous value of the team behind the man or woman in the cockpit. It’s the full team working toward a single, well-defined goal that makes a mission work.
In general aviation we do not have a single, clear, concise message that we can share with an audience. Some of us speak of educational benefits, while others talk about the fun factor. One advocate may focus on mechanics, while another delves into the technological advances being made, and still another laments the days when tube and fabric ruled the skies.
All of which makes the challenge of winning converts that much harder, because although each of those perspectives has legitimate value, they only expose a tiny sliver of the big pie that is general aviation.
So what is general aviation’s elevator speech? I think perhaps our best argument can be summed up this way: General aviation elevates society as a whole.
In terms of education, exploration, experimentation, transportation, technological advancement, and personal development, no other industry can offer so much benefit to so many regardless of where they live on the planet.
General aviation can be a starting point that springboards a pilot to the airlines, or into the hottest military aircraft, or even to outer space. It can lift a dedicated hobbyist from their basement to a top flight research and development lab, or to the boardroom.
General aviation has the potential to transport critically ill or injured patients to medical care faster than any other means, and it can open up the imagination of a 10-year-old child who never dreamed they could achieve so much without having to don a uniform, attend an Ivy League college, or even leave their own home town.
All this ran through my head as I left that annual meeting with a contact that would allow me to speak to students at a local high school about aviation as a hobby and as a career.
There is gold in them thar hills, surely. For us, the gold is a luminous sheen of color thrown by the setting sun onto brilliantly lit clouds hanging effortlessly above the green fields below.
We few have the ability to fly up, flirting with the ancient Greek elements of fire and air and water, before alighting back on the earth. It is because we can do that, we know we can do anything.
We can even contribute mighty power to the economy of our region – no matter where that region is. Because general aviation is everywhere.
Although, perhaps we could use a little more of it on Main Street, or in the chambers of city hall, or at a meeting of our local and regional economic development team.