A high tech firm is has its sight set on Carrabelle’s Hexaport.
Yesterday, Bruce McCormack, president of Gulf Unmanned Systems Center LLC (GUSC) met with the Carrabelle Economic Development Council to discuss plans to bring cutting edge technology to Franklin County.
McCormack has been pursuing this goal since, at the invitation of J. Ben Watkins, he came to Carrabelle last year to meet city officials and tour Hexaport. The building was constructed with grant money by Carrabelle in 2007 to house the GreenSteel modular home manufacturing center. That project was short-lived, collapsing in the face of a reduced housing market.
McCormack’s scheme is put the unoccupied Hexaport building, which belongs to the city with Centennial Bank holding the lease, to good use and bring much-needed jobs to the county.
In spite of some recent setbacks, McCormack is making progress toward reopening the factory building on John McInnis Road as GUSC headquarters.
McCormack posted ads for 10 jobs at the proposed facility on the Florida Workforce website in September. Now, he said, he has interviewed eight individuals, all willing to relocate to Franklin County, but nobody who lives in the county has applied.
“I would love to hire Franklin County residents,” said McCormack in a telephone interview. “But I can’t hire them if they don’t apply.”
He said the workforce at GUSC could expand to 20 within a year.
McCormack is looking for range technicians who will, “maintain security on all ranges both water and land and repair and maintain buildings, vehicles, boats,” among other duties.
He said good candidates should “have knowledge of Apalachicola Bay and surrounding areas (including) Tate’s Hell State Park, Apalachicola River, New River, Ochlocknee River and near shore waters of the Gulf of Mexico.”
Candidates should be experienced boat handlers with a six-passenger Coast Guard license. Other desired skills are the ability to operate a four-wheel-drive vehicle, basic computer skills, carpentry, fiberglass skills and welding.
He said the paychecks could start as early as January and would range from $10 to $18 per hour, depending on qualifications.
While McCormack expressed disappointment the state rejected a bid for “kick start funds” to renovate Hexaport, he said he has adequate private investors in place to set up shop.
What exactly does McCormack have planned for the 65,000 square foot building?
According to a summary McCormack prepared, Hexaport will become a center for evaluating small (55 pounds and less) robot drones for use on land, in the air and underwater. Right now, it said, there is no private sector test center for these small robots in the United States.
McCormack said the size of the building is an asset because it will allow researchers to test small aerial drones inside before taking them into the surrounding terrain.
The US military already employs thousands of these small robots in reconnaissance. One such drone, the “throwbot,” manufactured by Reconrobotics, weighs just over a pound and fits easily into a backpack.
Reconrobotics said the throwbot is “designed to help soldiers or police look inside a building before they storm it or under a vehicle to detect a bomb.”
The military has already purchased more than 4,000 of these pint-sized spies for $16,000 each and throwbots are popular with civilian police as well.
In addition to military applications, small robotic drones already have applications in scientific research, agriculture, aquaculture, disaster management, fire prevention and film production. They can be programmed to check the water content of soil from the air; spot treat diseased fruit trees; survey the ocean floor or recognize a face. New applications are under development.
McCormack said Hexaport is perfect for GUSC because of the many kinds of terrain surrounding the building. He said the building is large enough to allow interior testing of both ground based and airborne drones and he plans to create a pressure variable tank that would allow laboratory testing of submerged drones as well.
He said when work on the Hexaport building is completed; it will contain 10,000 square feet of office space, classrooms, briefing rooms and a tactical operations center. GUSC will also contain 10,000 square feet of maintenance and manufacturing shops with state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment. Special test areas will be provided in the 40,800 square foot common area.
McCormack said GUSC would be working with Gulf Coast State College’s Advanced Training Center to train new employees in design, advanced manufacturing techniques, quality assurance, and introduction to unmanned technologies.
According to McCormack’s report, “The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International recently published a report about the economic impact of the drone industry. It found that in the first three years after unmanned aerial systems are integrated into the national airspace (which is scheduled to take place in 2015), 70,000 new jobs will be created. It is clear that what these people will be using their drones for in the future will be very different from what we have seen them used for so far.
“If GUSC receives one-tenth of 1 percent of the anticipated jobs for aerial vehicles that will be 70 jobs. This does not account for the other jobs created for maritime systems and land systems another 50 to 100 jobs created in Franklin County alone supporting unmanned systems,” read the report.