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Defense contractor CAE USA building new headquarters near Tampa airport

The company plans to expand its local workforce by another 100 jobs projected to pay an average of $74,561 a year.

TAMPA — Defense contractor CAE USA is expanding its Tampa presence with a new local headquarters near Tampa International Airport and plans to hire up to 100 new employees in engineering and other high-paying jobs.

CAE USA, which makes flight and training simulators for the military, will spend an estimated $45 million to $50 million building a 290,000-square-foot home on land just south of W Hillsborough Avenue and east of the main airport.

Site work is expected to begin soon, and the new facility is scheduled to open in 2022. The company anticipates hiring computer and software engineers, program managers, training instructors and corporate staff.

RELATED STORY: Tampa firm CAE USA lands $40 million Air Force contract

CAE USA is leasing the 19-acre site from the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which 20 years ago bought the property and other vacant parcels in Drew Park for future aviation-related development.

“These are the kinds of companies we need,” Tampa International chief executive officer Joe Lopano said Friday. “It checks so many boxes: high-tech, high-paying and manufacturing. It’s so important to diversify our economy and to raise our profile.”

CAE USA is a subsidiary of CAE, which is based in Montreal and has about $2.4 billion in annual revenues, the vast majority of them from its production of military and civilian flight simulators. The Tampa operation is focused on defense and produces simulators and trainers for military aircraft that include C-130 cargo planes, KC-135 refueling tankers, Navy MH-60 Seahawk helicopters and MQ-9 Reaper military drones.

The company has had a Tampa presence for 40 years, originally under the name Reflectone.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, talks with Andy Jazwick, vice president for strategic development and Washington operations at CAE, and CAE USA president and general manager Ray Duquette at an event Friday marking the start of work on CAE USA's new headquarters near Tampa International Airport. [RICHARD DANIELSON | Times] [ RICHARD DANIELSON | Richard Danielson ]

CAE USA currently has about 600 employees in Tampa, including some who already have been hired as part of the expansion, company president and general manager Ray Duquette said. The new facility will have the capacity for about 750.

CAE USA picked the airport property after a search in which economic development officials in Pinellas and Pasco pitched their own sites for the expansion.

“We were going to lose this to Pasco County, so we stretched really hard to make this happen,” said former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who worked on the deal in the spring of 2018.

As a result, CAE USA will receive about $2.5 million in city, county and state incentives. Of those, $1.2 million will come from the state of Florida. Tampa and Hillsborough County will equally split the cost of offering another $1.32 million.

Some of the incentives will be tax refunds the company receives after it creates the new jobs. Others will be paid out over 20 years in exchange for the company maintaining its existing workforce. In each case, the company has committed to pay the employees in question an average of at least $74,561, which is one and a half times Hillsborough County’s average private sector wage.

“We’ve got a good climate for this," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at an event Friday marking the start of the project. “I think particularly in this industry people know that this is a great military state and that communities like this are great. If we can continue working on (developing) the workforce, I think businesses are going to want to invest even more.”

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