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PEDC, City Council, Airport Board plot aggressive campaign to attract companies to Cox Field Airport

Jan16 Joint meeting of PEDC, airport boardMembers of the city’s Airport Advisory Board joined with members of the Paris Economic Development Corporation and other city officials Thursday to begin an aggressive effort to market the advantages of Cox Field Airport.

Shawn Napier, who is the city’s director of developent as well as city engineer and airport director, noted that the Paris City Council has earmarked about $6 million — out of the $35 million May 2013 infrastructure bond issue — to extend water and sewer lines 3.2 miles from the Paris city limits to Cox Field Airport and surrounding area.

Construction is to begin by August, with infrastructure in place at the airport by early 2015, Napier said. That will dramatically improve development prospects at Cox Field, he said.

The PEDC’s increased interest in Cox Field for economic development coincided with the Paris City Council’s recent decision to bring infrastructure to the airport.

Thursday’s meeting at the airport included all five members of the PEDC plus Executive Director Steve Gilbert and Assistant Executive Director Shannon Barrentine; the seven members of the airport advisory board; and city officials including the city manager, city attorney, airport director and airport manager.

It was almost a standing-room-only occasion in a Cox Field Airport meeting room, with about 25 people in attendance, including three reporters.

“I’m excited to see so many people here, at our meeting,” airport board chairman Billy Copeland said.

Optimism poured out, and the consensus was to form an “Airport Advisory Board Subcommittee for Airport Marketing and Development” to lay out an aggressive marketing campaign to “sell” Cox Field Airport as a prime location for businesses — especially airport-related business.

“If you’re going to think, think big!” longtime airport advisory board member and pilot Jack Ashmore urged, suggesting that the group set its sights on bringing in “another Campbell Soup” — probably an aviation-related industry, but not necessarily.

“I want to see something that employs people from Paris,” Ashmore said.

Ashmore said a problem in past years was a city council that was unwilling to go so far as even build more hangars at the airport. There are about 30 people waiting in line for whenever more hangars become available, he noted, and that waiting list goes back for maybe 10 years.

“Well, you have a city council now that is very eager to get something done at the airport,” said District 2 City Councilwoman Sue Lancaster, who is the council’s liaison to the airport board.

“This could be a wonderful development, and it looks like everyone is getting together,” Lancaster said.

“I’m like you. If we’re going to go big, go really big,” PEDC chairwoman Rebecca Clifford said.

“I like what I’ve heard today,” airport board member Ray Ball said.

Gilbert said his feeling, after reading advertisements promoting this city or that, “is that almost every city is an excellent place to live, play and work!” Paris should seek to get the word out on why its airport is superior to others, he said.

Members of the airport advisory board noted there is lots of room for development north of the airport, and even more on the other side of the runways, toward the northwest. The problem with the available land on the other side of the airport is that there is presently no way to get to it except by crossing the runway. Once the infrastructure is in place, the sky will be the limit, those at the meeting agreed.

Napier said a very real advantage that Paris has in attracting airport-related investors to the airport is that the city owns the land. That allows the city to make sites available for lease at an attractive rate, as opposed to someone having to buy property.

As a former military base, Cox Field has advantages over nearly any other non-metropolitan airport, airport manager Jerry Richie said.

Ashmore noted that Cox Field has not only a long runway, but multiple runways. Many cities have land-locked airports. That’s not the case at Cox Field, he said.

Coming out of the meeting was a decision to create an “Airport Advisory Board Subcommittee for Airport Marketing and Development,” consisting of appointees from the PEDC, the City Council and the airport board, plus Napier and maybe one or two others from the city.

Once that possibility was brought up, it took hold in a hurry, and the group agreed to get the groundwork in place for such a committee to begin work immediately. The committee, once formed, will have its first meeting at Cox Field at 4 p.m. on Feb. 6.

Less than 24 hours later, the PEDC on Friday posted notice of a special meeting for Thursday of next week to appoint two of its members to the new subcommittee.

Another item on that agenda is to “discuss and possibly act” on advertising in the spring 2014 issue of “Texas Wide Open for Business,” which Gilbert recommended as a good starting place. He held up several magazines as potentially good advertising sites — places to reach people who are “real estate agents” for companies desiring to locate at airports.

The new committee will be pursuing getting the word out on the advantages that Cox Field Airport has over other cities — i.e., multiple runways, length of runway, plenty of space (not land locked, as many airports are), and most important the availability of water and sewer infrastructure and other utilities by early 2015.

Lancaster noted that Mayor AJ Hashmi is in the beginning stages of creating an “ePortalParis.com” website that will focus on what will be coming available at not only Cox Field Airport but Lake Crook. That website will show the advantages of both and could be a good marketing tool in itself, she said.

By Charles Richards, eParisExtra

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