ST. PETERSBURG — Downtown St. Petersburg will be the new headquarters of the commercial aviation solutions unit of L3 Technologies, one of the nation's biggest government contractors.
What that means: up to 250 employees, many of them engineers testing flight data recorders, black boxes and other products in the heart of what an L3 executive calls a ''fantastic'' city.
"We were looking for somewhere that was modern,'' Alan Crawford, president of L3 Commercial Aviation Solutions, said Thursday. "We thought downtown St. Pete was very attractive, both for our current employees and the future type of employees — the young professionals — we want to attract.''
Crawford added that he and his wife had moved from London to St. Petersburg a year ago and settled in the trendy Edge District. "So I've bought into St. Pete myself,'' he said.
The new headquarters at 490 First Avenue S will bring together engineers and administrative staff from north St. Petersburg, where L3 makes body scanners and other airport security devices; and Sarasota, where it makes products for commercial aircraft including flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders, commonly known as black boxes. (The actual manufacturing of those will shift to Grand Rapids, Mich and other locations.)
"Between commercial aviation airport security and aircraft avionics, you can see the synergies we're going to have by co-locating in that (downtown) building,'' Crawford said. (It also is headquarters of the Tampa Bay Times.)
The L3 employees will move this spring into what will be called the Center of Excellence of Engineering of Avionics. In addition to office space, there will be laboratories and equipment for testing baggage scanners and other products as well as classrooms for pilot training.
L3 has a 10-year lease with an option to extend it for another 10 years so "it's a long-term commitment,'' Crawford said. The company had looked at Sanford, where it has a flight academy, and other parts of Florida but decided St. Petersburg would be the best place for a "business that is growing very rapidly,'' he said.
Tampa Bay business and political leaders have long stressed that a key to staying competitive with metro areas like Raleigh, Nashville and Austin is attracting companies with well-educated, well-paid employees.
"That's fantastic, it means we're getting out the word,'' Charles Gerdes, chair of the St. Petersburg City Council, said on learning of L3's move to downtown. "I think when people come to St. Pete and see the energy, the commitment, the creativity and the entrepreneurship, they are amazed.''
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said the city has been working with L3 "every step of the way'' to consolidate its regional operations.
"L3 is a significant defense contractor, and their important, innovative work fits perfectly within the goals of our Grow Smarter strategy of economic development,'' Kriseman said in a statement.
In October, L3 announced it is merging with Melbourne-based Harris Corp. to form what will be the sixth largest U.S. defense contractor.
L3, which currently has facilities in 13 countries and 18 states, is a public company whose shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange. Share prices fell 15 percent last year and now trade at about $170 a share.
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.