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Unlock Airport's Potential For Business Opportunities

Tom Condon

March 15, 2009

On June 4, representatives of 20 small and medium-size companies from Connecticut will head to Europe and beyond in search of new business. They'll be able to fly directly from here to there because on June 3, transatlantic air service resumes between Bradley International Airport and Amsterdam.

The prospects of the trade mission are promising. A new directive from the European Union makes it easier for U.S. defense companies to sell to EU member countries, said Anne S. Evans, director of the Connecticut office of the U.S. Commercial Service, which runs an export assistance center in Middletown for state companies.

In addition to defense companies, there could be a mix of others. For example, Evans said she's trying to connect Perey Turnstiles Inc. of Bridgeport, a leading manufacturer of "admissions mechanisms" of all kinds, with the organizers of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. (This is a terrific company, whose turnstiles can be found in the White House, Pentagon, Yankee Stadium and the New York Stock Exchange, among many other places.)

If small and medium-size companies can successfully establish export markets, they can grow to be large companies, and the state's economy will benefit, as it will if companies there do more business here. Direct service to Europe from Bradley is crucial.

You may recall that Northwest/Delta began Hartford-to-Amsterdam service with much hoopla in 2007, only to cancel it in 2008 due to rising fuel prices. But thanks to great hustle by the airport's marketing and route development manager, Kiran Jain, and others, the service is being resumed. It will begin as five-day-a-week service using 160-passenger Boeing 757-200 aircraft. The hope is to build it to seven-day service, then to a bigger plane, and then develop a second European destination.

Which leads us to the long-standing question of whether the airport is optimally managed to grow international as well as domestic business.

Bradley is one of very few airports in the country run the state Department of Transportation; most are run by independent, self-funded airport authorities or boards. The DOT has always done an excellent job on the operations, or "air," side of the airport. The debate has centered on the "land" side: marketing, promotion and business development at Bradley.

DOT Commissioner Joseph Marie and his staff clearly get the picture, to a degree most of their predecessors did not, and are doing their best to promote the airport. But they are still restrained by state procurement, personnel and contracting rules. For example, a candidate for the post of airport manager had to turn down the job last year because the state could not come up with moving expenses from Colorado.

Also, as a state employee, Jain is subject to the ban on out-of-state travel for state employees. Why make it easy?

The General Assembly's Transportation Committee is preparing a bill that addresses some of these issues. As now envisioned, the bill would direct the Bradley board of directors, which now has limited power, to identify and, where possible, eliminate the roadblocks that impair competitiveness, said committee co-chairman Sen. Donald DeFronzo.

The bill, still a work in progress, would try to streamline the management of the airport by exempting it from rules that impede flexibility and entrepreneurial initiative. While legislators intend to keep DOT in charge, the bill could enhance the role of the Bradley board, which has been a strong group for many years. DeFronzo said the bill may enlarge the board and require legislative approval for members.

Another provision will give the Bradley Development League, made up of the four towns around the airport, more power to entice businesses to the area (let's shoot for something besides fast food and parking lots).

Committee members hope to have the bill ready this week.

Bradley airport has to hit on all cylinders to make the state competitive in the national and global marketplaces. It's doing pretty well now, but it can do better.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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