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Air cargo tenant at Watertown airport could help corporate park take off

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Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency officials said the plan to launch a corporate park at Watertown International Airport could move quickly from concept to reality, as a local cargo shipping company is “highly interested” in locating next to the airport runway.

Plans for the undisclosed tenant were highlighted Thursday at the agency’s board of directors meeting during a presentation by consultant David L. Mosher on the airport business park. Mr. Mosher presented findings in a 17-page report compiled over the past year commissioned by JCIDA, Jefferson County and the town of Hounsfield. His report outlines a plan of action to develop the corporate park that sets a goal of creating 400 jobs in the next five to seven years.

Steps needed to launch the park include developing a sewer district along Route 12F in the town of Hounsfield, expanding the runway and other services at the Jefferson County-owned airport and launching a marketing strategy to attract tenants from outside the region.

Luring the first tenant to the park this year would be a major step forward, Mr. Mosher said, because it would improve the credibility of state and federal grant applications for the project.

“It would move things to a real-world situation,” he said. “If you can pick up a couple of companies during the planning phases, it helps.”

Preliminary land studies will be needed to develop sewer and road infrastructure at the site, where the JCIDA owns about 80 acres but is trying to acquire about 200 more, Mr. Mosher said. Last year, the agency unsuccessfully applied for a $75,000 Rural Business Enterprise Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to map out preliminary work needed for the park. The town of Hounsfield application failed to garner a $30,000 state grant through the North Country Regional Economic Development Council for a feasibility study for sewer infrastructure along Route 12F.

The lack of a sewer line won’t prevent businesses from locating in the park in the meantime, however, because the sewage tanks could be used temporarily to provide service, Mr. Mosher said. Sewage could be transported from the site by tanker trucks and disposed of at a municipal location in the area, he said, and that shouldn’t be viewed as a disadvantage for companies eyeing the area.

“Temporarily, for the next two years we could truck it away from the site, but we’d like to eventually stop doing that and use a sewer line to pump it” to a sewage-treatment facility built in Hounsfield, he said. “We want to do a feasibility study there first that would enable us to get the line installed in 2015 or 2016.”

But from a cost perspective, there are still many unknowns, he said. A small area of federal wetlands on the property will have to be addressed, for example. And much of the park’s plan will have to adhere to rules established by the Federal Aviation Administration.

JCIDA will be responsible for marketing and selling land to park tenants, Mr. Mosher said. He recommended hiring a full-time airport park manager who could provide exclusive attention to marketing, sales and branding efforts.

“The JCIDA has a capability of finding prospects on its own, but you could use outside marketing help from a full-time person,” he said. “The agency will need to decide how much of this can be handled internally and how much needs to be done outside. And I don’t know how much longer we can go now without outside work on this project.”

Donald C. Alexander, CEO of the Jefferson County Local Development Corp., told the board that he expects to present an action plan to hire professional assistance in March, after consulting with officials from the county and town of Hounsfield. Both likely will be asked to provide financial support. The plan could involve extending Mr. Mosher’s contract.

“My proposal will probably include using some type of firm or individual to help us continue along this pathway, because it’s fairly complicated,” Mr. Alexander said. “There are a lot of moving parts, and all of us here have full plates.”

Next week, JCLDC officials will host a meeting with the prospective air cargo tenant interested in locating at the business park, Mr. Alexander said. Early planning for the park would speed up if the company commits to its plan.

“The company would like to have the ability to have a taxiway on one side of the facility so they can run up to the runway to transport things,” he said. “That’s the advantage of being located near the airport.”

Mr. Alexander said the commitment from the company would play a “very important” role in launching the corporate park.

“Right now it’s a concept, and concepts are what they are. But when there is a physical presence that’s established, now the concept becomes a reality and we can build on that,” he said.

The plan to develop the airport park comes as Purcell Construction announced in December its plan to create an industrial park with railroad access off outer Bradley Street at Interstate 81. Mr. Alexander said he believes Purcell’s plan for the 89-acre commercially zoned parcel will not conflict with the agency’s efforts to develop the airport park, because businesses will choose locations based on their logistical needs.

“If they want direct access to the airport, they can get it at our park,” he said. “But if they want rail, they can’t get it at the airport and will go to Purcell’s park. We’ll be giving businesses more options.”

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