United Technologies Corp. has leased penthouse space in downtown West Palm Beach that will serve as the executive offices of the company’s expanded aerospace division, further cementing UTC’s growing presence in Palm Beach County, a UTC spokesman confirmed on Wednesday.
United Technologies Aerospace Systems of Charlotte, N.C., a division of UTC in Farmington, Connecticut, and Rockwell Collins Inc. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, are set to complete a $30 billion merger shortly. Rockwell Collins specializes in avionics, flight controls and aircraft interiors.
United Technologies long has had a presence in Palm Beach County through its Pratt & Whitney jet engine division. But the newly created Collins Aerospace Systems office represents a new level of commitment to the county by the Fortune 500 company.
UTC and Rockwell Collins said in February that the new aerospace division would be based out of a “small leadership office” in an existing UTC site in Palm Beach County.
But earlier this year, UTC quietly subleased the entire 18th floor of the west tower of Phillips Point, a signature Class A office complex at 777 S. Flagler Dr. along the waterfront.
The space is lavish enough to be considered a headquarters office, even though Rockwell Collins officials earlier this year stopped short of calling the planned Palm Beach County location a headquarters move.
Regardless, the full-floor office not only is big, it’s in a high-profile spot. And it boasts stellar views of the Intracoastal Waterway, Palm Beach and the Atlantic Ocean.
“There’s not much better space in this town,” one real estate source said.
The 16,000-square-foot Phillips Point space, formerly occupied by Sandpointe Asset Management, can accommodate about 30 employees.
Top-level executives, including Rockwell Collins chief executive Kelly Ortberg, will work out of the space, according to sources. Ortberg will assume the role of chief executive of Collins Aerospace, and United Technologies Aerospace leader David Gitlin will serve as president and chief operating officer.
In October, Ortberg paid $5 million for a home at 5615 S. Flagler Dr., according to the Palm Beach County property appraiser’s office. The 5,900-square-foot home, which features six bedrooms and eight bathrooms, formerly belonged to interior designer Hilary Grinker Musser.
A United Technologies spokesman in Washington, D.C., confirmed the lease.
“Palm Beach County has been a great partner,” the spokesman said. “UT has a substantial presence across the county, inclusive of all our major business segments.”
The spokesman added: “Florida is an important aerospace hub, and we continue to expand our footprint across the state.”
United Technologies has had a major campus in northwestern Palm Beach County going back to 1958, where it first opened its Pratt & Whitney division to make rocket engines. During the 1980s, Pratt employment peaked at 8,500 workers.
Today, United Technologies employs about 1,000 people in Palm Beach County. In May, it said it planned to add 215 jobs and invest $100 million in upgrades to its Pratt holdings along the Beeline Highway. Pratt & Whitney builds jet engines for commercial and military uses.
UTC, which makes high-tech products and services to the building and aerospace industries, has other business operations in the county, too.
Some are splashy.
In April, UTC’s Climate, Controls and Security division opened a $115 million facility in Palm Beach Gardens, employing 450, including 380 new employees to the county. Climate, Controls and Security includes 85 worldwide brands, including Carrier heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system. Regional headquarters employees of Otis Americas, another subsidiary, also are based in the new offices.
Others UTC offices are under the radar. United Technologies’ human resources division has offices at 3601 PGA Blvd. in Palm Beach Gardens.
Despite UTC’s locations in various parts of the county, the Collins Aerospace Systems office in West Palm Beach is a major coup for a city seeking to grow its corporate roster, said Rebel Cook, president of the Economic Forum, a West Palm Beach business group.
“Strong viable corporations want to have a presence in a big city location, and West Palm Beach is becoming a big city,” Cook said.
Once West Palm Beach was known mostly as a center of government and professional service firms catering to rich residents on nearby Palm Beach.
But a diverse range of companies, especially those in the technology and financial fields, increasingly are attracted to the city’s urban scene. They like the bustling dining and arts destinations, as well as new apartments and condominiums, said Kelly Smallridge, president of the Business Development Board, the county’s chief business recruitment arm.
The downtown’s proximity to the airport, plus its amenities, are draws for companies seeking to attract employees now and in the future, she added.
More importantly, the UTC/Rockwell office burnishes the county’s reputation as an aerospace hub, Smallridge said: “It opens the eyes of top aviation and aerospace leaders who may not have considered Florida in the past.”
Collins Rockwell is no stranger to Palm Beach County’s aerospace industry. Last year, the company paid $8.6 billion or Wellington-based B/E Aerospace, a maker of aircraft cabin interior products.
The UTC spokesman said the combined aerospace system will have 14 facilities and nearly 2,500 employees in Florida after the merger.
Although the Rockwell/UTC merger was announced last year, it isn’t yet final until it receives approval from China. That approval is expected within weeks, especially in light of the U.S. Department of Justice’s approval of the merger last month and the European Union approval earlier this year, according to published reports.
Palm Beach Post
Alexandra Clough writes about real estate, law and the economy.