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Consultant highlights proposed business plan for corporate park at Watertown airport

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Land in corporate business parks in Jefferson County is getting scarce, but a corporate park planned adjacent to Watertown International Airport would provide a wealth of new space if it becomes a reality in the next five years.

For starters, though, the county, the town of Hounsfield and the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency need a plan of action. For $30,000 — $10,000 from each entity — they plan to hire David L. Mosher of Mosher Business Advisors to facilitate the development of that plan over the next four months.

On Thursday, the JCIDA’s board of directors approved the agency’s share to hire the consultant. Hounsfield has already approved the money, and the Board of Legislators will vote on the county’s share Tuesday.

Mr. Mosher outlined for JCIDA board members Thursday how the plan will be developed. After funding is secured, an ad hoc committee of 10 to 12 officials and board members from the three entities will meet monthly until the project is done.

At those meetings, Mr. Mosher said, the group will determine the strengths of each locality and delegate responsibilities for the project. Mr. Mosher will collaborate with leaders from the three entities to make progress on the plan, and the group will make trips to airport business parks, although the locations have not been decided.

The business plan will answer unresolved questions, he said, including how the park should be managed most effectively, a timeline for completing the corporate park, how it should be marketed to businesses and how the entities will share responsibilities. In addition to detailing the scope of work needed, the plan would highlight “critical success factors” that set deadlines for what work should be accomplished over five years.

But while the plan will offer the group guidance on how to proceed with the project, Mr. Mosher said, it won’t include a detailed course of action specifying what will be done.

“We’re going to try to answer as many questions as we can, but things aren’t static and will be constantly evolving as the project moves forward,” he said. “This is all about jobs, but we need to define how many jobs we need to create at the park to be successful.”

The size and cost of the park, and how it would be funded, have yet to be determined.

The JCIDA owns 45 acres outside the airport’s boundary east of the taxiway, but the agency is seeking enough additional land to have 100 acres to accommodate enough businesses to make the project cost-effective. The site now has access to water thanks to a recently completed water district project led by Hounsfield, but there is no sanitary sewer service.

Mr. Mosher said the airport is an advantageous site for the park for several reasons. One is the overwhelming success of the American Eagle passenger service, which reached almost 20,000 emplanements by the end of 2012 after starting flights to Chicago in November 2011. The airport property also is a designated Free Trade Zone, which could provide manufacturers and logistics companies with benefits by reducing or eliminating duty and tax payments on foreign parts of finished products.

Ideally, the proposed business plan will provide a clear vision needed for leaders to start work on the project in earnest, JCIDA Chief Executive Officer Donald C. Alexander said. It’s urgent to start the planning process now, he said, because there are only four vacant lots at the Jefferson County Corporate Park on Route 12F and a few lots at the City Center Industrial Park off Bellew Avenue.

“It’s looking like in the near term we are going to need to acquire more property to market,” Mr. Alexander said. “We need to understand whether we’re going to sell or lease the lots, and what the ownership should be. It could be owned and managed by an outside company.”

When grant funding for the project is applied for, “we have the most competitive argument we can have,” he said. “Three entities working together will have a tremendous impact.”

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