A Plea For Piper Aircraft

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While it might be hard to imagine a common bond between verdant Vero Beach, Fla., and industrial Toledo, Ohio, the Florida community is looking north for pointers on keeping its largest employer. Vero Beach’s "We Love [big red heart, here] Piper" campaign is modeled after a successful bid in the late 1990s to convince DaimlerChrysler to keep building Jeeps in Toledo. Vero Beach business leaders have launched a public campaign that includes bumper stickers and full-page newspaper tearouts that citizens are invited to put in their windows to proclaim their affection for the historic planemaker -- and the hundreds of millions of dollars it churns for the local economy each year. "We want to do everything we can to maintain Piper's presence in Vero Beach," Gerry Thistle, executive vice president at Vero Beach-based Hilb, Rogal and Hobbs told TCPalm. "I hope people in the community will understand what we'll lose versus what we'll gain if Piper leaves." Vero Beach and Indian River County politicians have agreed to offer Piper about $56 million in incentives and the state has chipped in $20 million. Most of the civic governments’ contribution is in the form of facility lease-back arrangements which will allow Piper to stay in its present quarters and also move into a brand-new plant for its PiperJet rent-free for the first eight years of the deal. However, the spending must be approved by referendum, and that’s the focus of the public campaign. "We really need community support on the bond referendum," said County Administrator Joe Baird.