KINGMAN - Kingman Airport Authority Executive Director Dave French has issued a statement defending the airport against allegations made by some City Council candidates that it has not done enough to bring new industries to town.
In a three-page memo released Friday, French listed dozens of grants, land sales and construction projects undertaken at the Airport Industrial Park since 2006, adding that the airport has continued to generate jobs, property taxes and quality of life for the local economy despite the poor underlying conditions brought on by the housing bust.
French prefaced his list with the allegation that some Council candidates were laying undue blame on the Airport Authority for failing to meet economic development responsibilities it hasn't had in several years.
"Once again during the recurring election cycle remarks such as 'They (meaning the Airport Authority) haven't accomplished anything in two years' keep circulating," French wrote.
"There appears to be some misunderstanding that the Airport Authority is responsible for the overall economic development of the greater Kingman area. This is not the case."
French elaborated on this further in an interview Monday, where he said the Airport, like anyone else, is eager to see retailers such as Target come into the area. But it's not his direct responsibility to make that happen, nor should it be.
"I don't think some of (the candidates) understand what our purpose is and what we're supposed to be doing," he said.
"It's to bring jobs, property tax, sales tax, to the community and maintain the Airport and Industrial Park, the 4,000 acres we have here. We don't get involved that much in Targets or Dillards."
All the same, French added, the Industrial Park still employs nearly 10 percent of all workers in Mohave County, and while the economy has certainly slowed, companies such as Telling Industries and Contech Construction Products are still coming in despite the downturn, keeping the park's vacancy rate at a lean 2 percent for four million square feet of industry.
"It's amazing that we've done anything when you stop and think about how slow things are, but we have. Just look at '08 and '09," he said. "Kingman Airline Services, from then to now, has put 120 airliners here, and that brings us about $30,000 a month."
Last year alone, the Airport injected more than $5 million into the local economy through a stimulus-funded reconstruction project for the airport's ramp areas, in addition to many millions more in property taxes.
Even now, PJ Patt Investments, which purchased two acres of land for a 10,000 square-foot distillery, is testing mashes for its new line of designer vodkas and is expected to open later this year.
That's not to say the airport isn't hurting like any other business entity. With many industries closely tied to the housing industry prior to the bust, French estimated as many as 400 fewer employees are working at the park now compared to 2006. But at the same time, he argued, hundreds more jobs might not exist at the park today had it not been for the Airport Authority's efforts.
What may hurt the public's perception is that those efforts typically aren't out in the open for all to see, since they're done primarily through private networking, and the Airport cannot openly discuss businesses it may currently be courting. "You certainly don't see big ads in the local papers," French noted. "It's mostly done though referrals from the Arizona Department of Commerce."
Adding to that is the fact that, while many would love nothing more than to see more industry out at the park, Kingman at present simply cannot support operations above a certain size. According to Airport Economic Development Director Bob Riley, manpower is one of the biggest concerns industries have when looking at Kingman.
With an aging workforce, he said, few larger industries are able to see Kingman as an ideal location for something like a 500-employee shop, given the potential difficulty in getting everything set up quickly, as well as accounting for inevitabilities like worker attrition rates.
"We have to show them they've got a ready, willing and able labor force, that the labor force is competitive, that our land costs are reasonable, our taxes fair and equitable, and that it's a business-friendly community," Riley said.
"What we don't have and what we're rapidly seeing disappear is an available workforce. Our median age in the last 10 years has gone from 38 years old to 48 years old. We've also had an exodus of construction workers. They went where the construction was, and consequently, we have a void in the labor market.
"That affects our ability to attract industries," he continued. "When we start getting to the larger businesses, they're concerned that we can't provide the initial 500 people plus the additional labor force needed to make up attrition to get that labor force up and running."
Another big concern, he said, is finding a reliable way for the community to guide prospective businesses through the hoops they have to jump in order to get established here, not just at the Industrial Park, but anywhere in town.
"How does the city communicate the information required for a site selector to make an informed decision on our community, and once they've made the decision, how do we walk them through the red tape?" he said. "I believe at this time, that's the question that needs to be answered."
Until that happens, however, French and Riley said the airport authority intends to stay the course, continuing to use its network of connections and referring agencies to cater to industries that fit Kingman, so that once they are here, they're here to stay.
"The businesses that have been here have been here long term, and they've stayed profitable. We're seeing very stable, productive facilities," Riley said. "Our inquiries are nowhere near where they were two years ago, but we're still getting qualified leads, and as financing becomes available, and when the inventories aren't exceeding sales, we'll see these businesses coming back."