Where Business Takes Off?

Nov 27, 2012

 A new state initiative sees Connecticut’s airports as drivers of the economy. Bradley has been the model for this concept, and the vision may soon be replicated around the state.  WNPR’s Harriet Jones reports.

When Connecticut’s new quasi public Airport Authority was created last year, Governor Dannel Malloy gave it one, overriding mission – economic development.

“It is clear that we have missed opportunities in the past because we were not able to move and make commitments rapidly enough. Nor did we make timely investments in our infrastructure. Those days are over.”

The initial effort has focused around Bradley Airport, where an economic development zone offers an 80 percent property tax break over five years to companies that expand or relocate there. There’s also a 10-year, 25 percent corporate tax break. Jim Hayden is First Selectman of East Granby, and President of the Bradley Development League.

“So there’s some great financial incentives for folks to put some capital dollars around the airport, so we’re hoping to have capital invested, jobs created and tax revenue produced.”

The four towns of East Granby, Windsor, Windsor Locks and Suffield surround Bradley and collectively make up the development league. Hayden says for companies, the creation of the 1,000-acre development zone provides clarity and simplicity about making an investment.

“Because all four towns would be on the same level playing field, they would have the same opportunities that they would give to businesses, so it’s a simplified procedure for manufacturers – so it’s kind of more one-stop shopping than it was before.”

Since July of this year, four companies have applied for the tax rebates in return for significant expansion within the zone. One, fiber optics manufacturer Nufern has committed to create an additional 50 jobs.

“Bradley really is poised to be a serious economic driver here in the state of Connecticut.”

Karen Jarmoc sits on the Connecticut Airport Authority. She says the companies that have so far taken advantage of the development zone are just the start – for an airport that has in the past underperformed as an economic driver.

“It’s the second largest airport in New England, and it’s situated in a very good spot centrally located between Boston and New York.”

The hope is that economic activity around Bradley also helps the airport itself to expand. Bradley recently completed a survey of travelers and businesses to ask what new services they’d like to see at the airport.

“There absolutely is a desire for a transatlantic flight. There’s also a desire for increased domestic travel opportunity.”

Those are statistics the authority can take to airlines to try to revive Bradley’s prospects of attracting that elusive transatlantic carrier – something which in it’s turn will make the airport a more attractive location for a wider range of businesses.

“You’re going to see not just Bradley growing in terms of business and this economic engine concept, but I think what you’re also going to also see is it happening in other areas of Connecticut as well.”

Those other areas would be around the state’s General Aviation airports, or GAs – spread around the state at Waterbury Oxford, Hartford Brainard, Danielson, Windham and Groton New London. The Airport Authority can extend the development zone concept to these sites, but what could the Bradley model do for these very different airports?

“It makes me a little melancholy to see the place so quiet. When I was a kid there was a steady stream – used to have a taxi stand here, and you come in now, and it’s, you know, a little disheartening.”

State Senator Andy Maynard is standing at the terminal building at Groton New London Airport. Maynard grew up in this area, and walking past the now-silent service desks, and the shuttered restaurant, he remembers that the airport wasn’t always like this.

“Yeah – I mean you’d have one or two airlines at the counters here, you’d probably have all of the major car rental agencies in here….. but as you can see it’s quite quiet at the moment… wait a minute, was that a pin I heard?”

It’s Maynard’s hope that creating a development zone at Groton New London could revitalize the airport itself, bringing new businesses, that might prompt commercial airlines to take a second look. He says although many different kinds of businesses can take advantage of the potential tax breaks,

“Clearly you’d want to try to encourage those businesses that would get a real synergy out of being in proximity to a shipping location. It’s a new concept for the General Aviation airports, at least here, so I think part of it’s going to be making people aware of it, and part of it’s going to be trying to get this place looking and feeling more attractive by more activity.”

So it’s a chicken and egg.  Does business promote service at the airport, or will new flights stimulate businesses to relocate there? That’s a problem that at least one of the GA airports, Waterbury Oxford, seems to have solved already. State Senator Rob Kane.

“It’s huge economic driver. It’s the second busiest airport in the state and has the longest runway in the state. Right now there’s a $23 million hangar project that is going up there. There is a potential gas plant that is going up there – there’s a lot of activity going in and around.”

Waterbury Oxford doesn’t have commercial service, but it is a significant hub for corporate flights. It actually pioneered the economic development zone concept for the GA airports, passing its own bill to offer tax incentives to businesses, only to see it vetoed by Governor Malloy who wanted to create his more comprehensive statewide strategy. Now Waterbury Oxford is awaiting its own approval for development zone status under that larger umbrella. And, says Kane, it can’t come soon enough.

“The problem is, now that we’ve created this economic development zone, there are companies kind of sitting on the sidelines waiting for that to take place before they’ll put that first shovel in the ground. We really need to get this going – get a move on it.”

Compared to many states, Connecticut is still in the early stages of promoting air transportation hubs as a way to stimulate business and create jobs. It will hope its early optimism about that synergy pays off down the road.

For WNPR, I'm Harriet Jones.