As it prepares for next week's Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo, the Aerospace Center for Excellence announces it is launching ELEVATE, a business incubator on its Lakeland Linder Airport campus aimed at jump-starting aerospace and logistics enterprises.

The organization, ACE for short, said it will “accelerate the next generation of aerospace professionals” with the establishment of the ELEVATE Aerospace & Logistics Business Incubator at its 14-building, 22-acre Aerospace Youth Education Complex on the Sun ‘n Fun Expo Campus adjacent to the Florida Air Museum at the airport.

ACE, the non-profit parent organization of the Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo, said in a news release that newly-created ELEVATE will “assist budding entrepreneurs as well as established companies looking to fully launch their great idea.”

ELEVATE “seeks to accelerate business growth and develop successful individuals, businesses, and concepts in Central Florida, as well as around the world,” ACE said. “The core aim of ELEVATE is to transport ideas from promise to product.”

ELEVATE’s office space, currently under construction and scheduled to open in June, will be within ACE's Aerospace Youth Education Complex, which promotes careers in aviation through year-round outreach and coordination with other educational institutions, the Florida Air Museum and the Lakeland Aero Club.

ACE Marketing Director Melissa Goodman said Thursday that ACE will pay the airport $50,000 a year for its office space. Next week, the Polk County Commission is expected to approve a $600,000 one-time grant to be split by ELEVATE and another business incubator in Lake Wales, and the Lakeland City Commission is soon expected to endorse allocating $100,000 each of the next three years for ELEVATE, she said.

The ELEVATE website lists the incubator address as 3985 Laird Blvd.

View it on Google Maps

ACE awards scholarships through the Naples-based James C. Ray Foundation for students to earn their private pilot licenses. Students are enrolled in Polk State College Aerospace program, Southeastern University’s Aviation program and Central Florida Aerospace Academy, a 9th- through 12th-grade academy operated by the Polk County school district. More than 300 students are currently enrolled, according to ACE.

ELEVATE will offer memberships that range from virtual engagement with mentors and remote events to private office space for companies ready to take the next step. Open co-working and dedicated desk memberships are also available.

ACE said it “recognizes the importance and value of a wide range of member profiles and, as always, offers membership discounts and scholarship opportunities to students enrolled in higher education as well as veterans. Members can enjoy a dedicated ‘think tank' with floor-to-ceiling dry erase walls, a video-enabled conference room, high-speed internet access, and (of course) free coffee, soda, and snacks.”

“ELEVATE is a world-class think-space purposefully designed to foster creativity and innovation in the transportation industry, specifically in aerospace and logistics,” ACE Board Chairman Rick Garcia said. “Combined with the amazing talent and experience of the extensive mentor network available through the Aerospace Center for Excellence, we have built a community to foster and develop ideas into enterprise.”

Polk State College was the first to announce its partnership with ACE and ELEVATE. It is providing interns and staffing support, “as well as learning opportunities enabling members earn college credit in entrepreneurship and supply chain management,” ACE said.

“The ELEVATE Aerospace & Logistics Incubator is a powerful extension of Polk County Florida’s thriving aerospace community that will accelerate the future of the industry and our region forward,” Polk State College President Dr. Angela Garcia Falconetti said. ”With the opportunity for ELEVATE members to articulate college credits to Polk State, participants will be positioned to build upon both their education and entrepreneurial endeavors, fostering their success.”

The ELEVATE logo

Lakeland Linder International Airport’s regional economic impact has swollen from $167 million in 2010 to more than $1 billion now with nearly 85 businesses and organizations — including 60-plus tenants leasing space at the city-owned airport — generating more than 4,000 jobs.

Since Amazon built its $100 million air cargo facility at Lakeland Linder in 2020, adding more than 800 workers, the airport has been a nexus of regional growth with an expanding logistics industry footprint enhanced by its Central Florida proximity to Tampa and Orlando along I-4.

Currently there are more than 60 different businesses leasing more than 100 spaces from the city at the airport, including aircraft avionics shops, flight schools, aircraft painting and refurbishing facilities, and airframe and powerplant maintenance shops capable of handling single-engine Cessna to 737 cargo jets.

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