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Consultant highlights guideposts needed to launch airport business park

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Purchasing more land and lengthening the runway at Watertown International Airport are among the steps necessary to create a business park with up to 500 jobs in the next five to seven years, according to a preview of a consultant’s plan presented Thursday.

During a meeting at the airport off Route 12F near Dexter, the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency’s board of directors learned more about a strategic plan for the park being developed by consultant David L. Mosher, who will provide a final copy for officials in September. Steps in the plan include hiring a full-time marketing professional to recruit companies, partnering with an economic development company in Oneida County and adding air cargo services to serve logistics companies.

A committee of officials from JCIDA, the county and the town of Hounsfield will use the strategic plan to help determine their course of action to develop the corporate park, Mr. Mosher said. JCIDA so far has secured 102 acres of land east of the airport’s taxiway for the proposed business park. The agency will seek to acquire about 150 acres in total, Mr. Mosher said, which would provide space for about 30 businesses if they take up 5 acres each. The agency is seeking to buy two additional parcels of land, which would enlarge the park by 18 acres.

Highlighted in the strategic plan are broad recommendations that will serve as a framework for officials to develop a course of action, Mr. Mosher said. The following actions included in the plan are designed to attract companies in and out of state to set up shop at the park:

n Marketing and branding: JCIDA will be responsible for marketing efforts at the park, Mr. Mosher said. The agency also will be responsible for determining what kinds of companies should be at the park, along with providing expectations for the number of jobs created. “We need to have jobs on the whole economic ladder,” he said.

n Cargo airlines: airport services to support logistics and shipping companies, such as FedEx, that send air cargo will be needed at the airport because of their high volume of overseas imports and exports, Mr. Mosher said. Expanding airline cargo services at the airport will play a critical role in attracting businesses. Those shipping services would go hand in hand with the U.S. foreign trade zone status at the industrial site, which will enable companies that obtain FTZ status to decrease operational costs by reducing duty payments on foreign components of finished products.

n Second airline destination: flights offered by American Eagle to Chicago have continued to grow in numbers since they were launched in the fall of 2011. Based on feedback from business owners, Mr. Mosher said, a second destination offered by the American Airlines subsidiary would make the site more desirable as a regional transportation hub — flights to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, for example, or Newark Liberty International Airport. Jefferson County’s plan to increase the length of the airport’s runway from 6,000 to 7,000 feet is aimed at spurring the airline to offer more flights with larger planes.

n Training programs: companies at industrial parks need access to training programs at all levels, Mr. Mosher said, including two- and four-year degree programs at Jefferson Community College and technical programs offered by the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

n Hiring support services: JCIDA should hire a full-time professional, Mr. Mosher advised, to be focused exclusively on marketing and acquisition efforts that couldn’t be achieved in-house by the agency. In addition, he said, JCIDA should consider hiring a specialist devoted to grant application writing and financial activities for the project. “To be focused on this project and get it done in five to seven years is going to take someone’s attention and expertise,” Mr. Mosher said. “The agency already has so much on its plate, and adding 400 to 500 jobs would be a challenge for it to do alone.”

n Partner with Mohawk Valley Economic Development Growth Enterprises Corp.: serving Oneida and Herkimer counties, the Mohawk EDGE helps recruit businesses at the industrial park at Griffiss International Airport in Oneida County. JCIDA should explore ways it could partner with Mohawk EDGE to recruit businesses and share services, Mr. Mosher said.

Two local businesses have expressed interest in expanding by adding locations at the park, Mr. Mosher said, which would create a total of about 50 jobs. Those prospects, which have not been disclosed, are expected to improve JCIDA’s credibility as it applies for grants and loans from state and federal agencies to fund the multimillion-dollar project.

A lengthy laundry list of work will have to be accomplished soon, however, before the business park becomes shovel-ready. Although land bordering Route 12F has access to a Hounsfield water line, sewer infrastructure still is needed at the park. Hounsfield plans soon to conduct a feasibility study at the site, which will be required to establish a sewer district. In addition, environmental and engineering studies have to be completed for the vacant land to become developable. The agency plans to apply for a $75,000 Rural Business Enterprise Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop a blueprint for that preliminary work.

To get feedback from businesses about the business park, a meeting was held Wednesday with representatives from Watertown-based New York Air Brake, Jain Irrigation, Knowlton Technologies and Timeless Frames. The discussion centered on how the business park could play a role in retaining local businesses and helping them grow, JCIDA CEO Donald C. Alexander said. For the airport business park to succeed, he said, the plan will need broad support from the local business community.

“We’re starting from ground zero on this, and it’s going to take a leap of faith to develop a viable, attractive business park,” he said. “And if we want to create jobs, the community is going to have to pitch in in some way. We need to do a lot of work on this plan concurrently, because the time-to-market timetable is critical for these companies. Once we identify what companies we’re going to market this to, by sector, then we can move to the pedal and wheel to get the job done.”

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