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...Or pie in the sky?

July 13, 2003|By Harold "Hal" Phillips

To the editor:

Commissioner Doris Nipps wrote an excellent column in favor of the runway extension project at the Hagerstown Regional Airport.

Tim Bussard wrote an equally informative column in opposition to this project. Both should be re-run side-by-side.

Nipps is certainly correct that a $60 million "construction" project using federal, state and local tax dollars will benefit our local economy during the construction phase.

However, the economic impact data study Nipps cites prepared by the Maryland Aviation Administration, while interesting, is not convincing.

Folks, the "build it and they will come" tax, borrow and spend philosophy employed by successive groups of elected officials in this county has resulted in ever increasing amounts of general fund revenues (i.e., tax dollars) being directed to cover operation costs in addition to debt service - the water and sewer debt service and the ice rink being two examples, as Bussard's column correctly observed.

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Commissioner Nipps' data indicates there are 29 businesses located at the airport employing 246 people. How many are aviation-related businesses and how many are nonaviation-related businesses renting low-cost square footage at the former Fairchild complex? Some questions

What will be the additional tax burden incurred to cover debt service, operation and maintenance costs?

How many new aviation-related businesses and employees must locate at the airport to generate sufficient tax revenues to cover the new debt service, operation and maintenance costs?

Is there at least one regional airline that has made a firm multi-year commitment to provide unsubsidized commuter service to regional hubs once the 7,000 foot long runway is in place?

Has Northrup Grumman-California Microwave Systems provided the county a letter of commitment to expand employment to 150 people?

As a trained economic development professional, I suggest you discount the multiplier effect of indirect and induced job creation (that the Maryland Aviation Administration data indicate will produce 1.296 employees off-site for every new job created at the airport) until those questions are answered.

There definitely is a "ripple effect" when value-added jobs are created. The construction industry being a prime example. To illustrate, for every 100 new homes built in our community, typically 75 indirect and induced permanent jobs are created in other business sectors.

Clearly, additional data need to be presented to demonstrate that the existing 29 businesses at the airport employing 246 people has had a "ripple effect" that produced 316 permanent full-time jobs in manufacturing, wholesale, retail, finance, insurance, real estate, technology and government.

My mind remains open. I just don't know whether spending $60 million will change the negative economic and competitive forces arrayed against Hagerstown Regional Airport ever becoming a dynamic regional airport - even with a 7,000 foot runway.

Government entities are great at presenting "pie in the sky" projections. When Commissioner Nipps gets Northrup Gruman-California Microwave Systems to commit to creating 150 new jobs paying each employee more than $66,000 annually once a 7,000 foot runway is in place as her data contends, then I will support the project.

Harold "Hal" Phillips
Clear Sprin
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