Flight sim company Redbird relocating to Kyle from Austin in search of room to grow

Rendering of buildings at Hays Commerce Center
Dec 07, 2021
Justin Sayers – Staff Writer, Austin Business Journal

A South Austin-based manufacturer of flight simulation equipment is headed to Kyle after the company outgrew its space in the SouthPark Commerce Center.

Redbird Flight Simulations Inc. on Dec. 6 received unanimous approval from Kyle City Council for a Chapter 380 agreement to help with its move into a 50,000-square foot space in the 100-acre Hays Commerce Center at 301 Vista Ridge Dr.

The incentives agreement — codenamed Project Phoenix in city discussions — provides for a four-year property tax rebate that will start at 85% and reduce annually by 20% to 25% in the fourth year, Kyle Director of Economic Development Diana Blank-Torres said during the meeting. The company is required to grow to 71 employees, with an average salary of $79,000.

The development represents a $2.2 million capital investment, according to a Dec. 7 announcement from the Greater San Marcos Partnership.

"Those are exciting numbers. It's always good when we achieve those high of wages when we recruit," Kyle Mayor Travis Mitchell said during the meeting.

The Hays County County Commissioners Court also approved a Chapter 381 incentives agreement for the company — also codenamed Project Phoenix — during a Dec. 6 meeting. The agreement calls for rebates over five years starting at 85% and incrementally decreasing to zero over five years.

"We are the fastest-growing county in the state of Texas because our business community and economic opportunity is second to none," Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra said in a statement. "Businesses know that they will find success here in Hays County, and I am confident that Redbird Flight Simulations will be the next in a long line of successful job creators in our county."

Redbird CEO Todd Willinger said in an interview that the company — which was founded about 15 years ago and primarily provides flight training equipment and software, plus education for everyone from the military to general aviation pilots to students — is "completely and utterly out of space." He joked that the company probably should have moved out of its current 27,000-square-foot space facility off East St. Elmo Road in Austin 18 to 24 months ago, but opted to stay to get closer to the end of an existing lease.

"This will sound strange, but Covid-19 probably helped because it forced us to do more remote work, so we had more office space return in that regard. Our manufacturing areas and assembly areas are over half of the space. We're just completely out of space. We had to move some place," he said, adding that Redbird has systems installed in 47 countries.

He said the company currently employs 60 and executives expect that to be close to 70 by the end of next year. They are planning on moving into the new space by next summer.

Willinger said company leaders were trying to find space in South Austin with current employees in mind but could not find enough space. They looked around Buda and Kyle and opted for Hays Commerce Center, owned by Austin-based HPI Real Estate Services and Investments Inc., because it was less expensive in terms of both taxes and utilities.

The relocation marks another economic boost for Kyle, located about 20 miles south of downtown Austin. It has ranked among the fastest-growing cities in the country over the past two decades, growing from 5,314 residents in 2000 to 45,697 in 2020, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Other large employers that have moved into the city recently include Plastikon Industries Inc., a plastic parts manufacturer that supplies Tesla Inc. and Toyota Motor Corp.; Simwon North America Corp., also reportedly a Tesla supplier; Amazon.com Inc., Lowe's Cos. Inc. and ENF Technology Co. Ltd.

HPI broke ground on the 100-acre Hays Commerce Center in 2018, with plans to expand to include commercial space for lease, purchasable land and full built-to-suit purchase options. The company and city announced in June that that they're partnering to develop three more buildings totaling 400,000 square feet, including the roughly 70,000-square foot Hays Commerce Center Building 3, where Redbird will be located. Other tenants in the center include FedExp Corp., which leases 223,000 square feet.

Willinger said the new facility will include 30,000 square feet of manufacturing space, 3,000 square feet of production-associated space and 17,000 square feet of office space.

He added that he didn't deal much with the city, but mostly with the Greater San Marcos Partnership, with whom Redbird had an existing relationship. The company owns a 27,000-square-foot facility at San Marcos Regional Airport that it previously used for flight training but now leases out as landlord.

"We have had some experience working with them in the past. They kind of took the lead on this on our behalf," he said.

"Redbird Flight Simulations is yet another example of how the region's continued economic strength and unified vision attract new business, new industries, and quality jobs to the Texas Innovation Corridor," Jason Giulietti, president of the Greater San Marcos Partnership, said in a statement.

Also on Dec. 6, Kyle City Council approved incentives for a Z'Tejas restaurant in the city.

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