Jefferson County should take a deep breath before it forges ahead to create a plan for an industrial park at the airport. The concept to develop such a park is a solid proposal. Everyone agrees that the airport is an ideal place for an industrial park. Airports across the country attract economic activity, because they provide excellent hubs to transport goods.
What is required to accomplish success is expert advice from engineers and consultants experienced with dealing with the Federal Aviation Administration, which in the end will finance a lions share of the planning costs. In addition the consultant needs to have a proven track record enticing airport-based industry to locate at regional airports. All plans for an industrial park at the airport will have to be part of a longer term airport plan required by the FAA the federal agency which holds the local airport to ever tighter safety and security regulations. Assuring that an airport provides appropriate and safe facilities to serve the growing demand for air service requires experience and professional help.
The county has done a tremendous job in enticing American Airlines to the facility in Dexter. The passenger numbers show that there is strong demand for air service here. The round trip flights to Chicago are attractive to military families, to non-military natives who are weary of driving on snowy roads to Syracuse and to Canadians who are looking for convenient service at lower prices than are available north of the border.
However, when the county purchased the fixed-base operator and implemented a long-term plan to provide fuel and maintenance services to airlines, private pilots, and corporate airplanes, they may have ventured into a field that the private sector does well. Government has not earned a reputation for acting nimbly in a market place which changes dynamically.
Government labor costs are excessive because of the state imposed pension benefits not available to private sector workers and work rules which hamper productivity. Further the county has assigned overall responsibility to manage the airport to their competent highway superintendent, thrusting him into an impossible position of having to do two full-time jobs.
As a plan for an industrial park and expansion of the airport unfolds, the county needs consultants with experience in this field, not the firm which convinced the county to buy the fixed-base operator. The proposed consultant has exhibited enthusiasm for a number of projects the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency has engaged him to develop, but there is not much to show for the efforts.
It is time for the county Legislature to thoroughly review the selection of a consultant to develop a plan to assure taxpayers that the airport is more than a business that sells fuel to airline companies or private pilots. It requires a long-term plan which will result in dynamic independent leadership with a mission to provide a safe, modern facility which will appeal to passengers, airlines and airport dependent industries.