Savannah cannot aspire to be a truly international city without large, locally-based global companies selling their products around the world.
And no firm is doing that now more than Gulfstream Aerospace.
A division of Virginia-based General Dynamics, the business jet manufacturer is an $8.6 billion company headquartered in Savannah.
It employs about 10,000 people in our area, by far our largest single private employer.
Gulfstream’s Vice President for Communications, Steve Cass, spoke at the Savannah Council on World Affairs about the company’s international growth.
“If we start looking at how are markets are moving internationally, our international fleet is ten times larger than it was ten years ago,” Cass says. “And if you start looking forward into our future, we have about a $13 billion backlog at Gulfstream and more than 50% of our orders are international.”
That means, as every year goes by, the percentage of Gulfstream aircraft that are based overseas gradually will equal or surpass those in service domestically.
To give you an idea of exactly how much business that is, about 65% of the company’s 2,400 worldwide aircraft are based in North America.
The rest are scattered around the globe.
And it goes without saying that business jets are a big investment for any company.
Gulfstream’s “entry level” aircraft, its six-passenger, New York to Los Angeles non-stop G150 is $15 million.
While that plane is manufactured in Tel Aviv, about 120 of the company’s 150 annually delivered aircraft are built in Savannah.
So an upswing in overseas markets is very good news for our region.
“We had two major facility expansions over the past few years to really address the growth that we’ve seen internationally,” Cass says. “In 2006 and in 2010, we announced facility expansions.”
I remember these expansion announcements.
When they went to press, no one their true impact.
“Each of [the expansions] were to add about 500 to 1,000 new jobs each,” Cass says. “We’ve actually brought in more than 4,700 employees during those two periods. So right when the economy was tanking, Gulfstream was really making some significant investments, more than $1 billion in investments, here in the Savannah area.”
The growth is happening for many reasons, including the speed, range and service of Gulfstream aircraft.
But it’s not vacationing, says Cass.
“A lot of times I think the business jet industry gets a lot of bad raps in the press and even by some of our politicians because they’re trying to connect it to that idealized person that you think is flying themselves down to catch their yacht down in the Caribbean,” Cass says. “And that’s really not our industry. And it’s unfortunate that it’s received that type of stereotype.”
Cass gave an example with the company’s newest plane.
Customers have had a strong demand for the G650, the fastest civilian airplane being sold today, ever since it was announced in 2008.
It’s capable of traveling nine-tenths the speed of sound.
“They’re really buying it for the speed,” Cass says. “When they’re flying at this fast cruise speed, it actually saves them about 50 hours per year. So you’re really back giving people almost a work week to their lives in a year just by flying those trips at a faster cruise speed.”
This 29-minute talk goes into the history of Gulfstream in our area.
And it serves as a “Gulfstream 101” for anyone interested in this globally-facing company that remains an integral part of the local economy.