Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

July 25, 2013

Phil Power: Time for airports plan to take flight

"What could be the single largest economic development project in Michigan history has been sitting there, right under our nose.”

That’s the first paragraph of a column I wrote way back in 2001. In it, I advocated prompt action by Michigan leaders to make real the promise of the “Aerotropolis,” the idea of realizing the blockbuster economic potential offered by combining Detroit Metropolitan and Willow Run Airports with the 25,000 acres of relatively undeveloped land in between.

Coupled with our existing network of expressways and railroads, sea-based traffic through the Detroit River and our location adjacent to Canada, this offers the potential for a world-class business-logistics gateway right into the center of our country.

Evidence from similar developments -- Schiphol airport near Amsterdam and Hong Kong — suggests the long-term potential is enormous: As much as 60,000 jobs and $10 billion in investment.

So I am delighted that the Detroit Region Aerotropolis Development Corporation has just hired a CEO, completed a strategic marketing plan and re- branded itself as “VantagePort.”

This means that at long last, things are actually happening. Tim Keyes, the former economic development manager for the City of Romulus, is the new VantagePort CEO. He’s smart and experienced. He knows how to get things moving through the thicket of Wayne County politics. And he’s got a clear endorsement from local and county government and the business community.

What is sad is that it’s taken so long to get things moving. Former Gov. John Engler and former Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara laid the groundwork in 2002, by setting up the Wayne County Airport Authority, charged with managing both Detroit Metro and Willow Run. And Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano has been an ardent supporter ever since the idea was first proposed.

But getting from there to here has been tough. Wayne County politics are, at best, inscrutable, and it took considerable huffing and puffing just to pull together the various local communities surrounding the airport. Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm didn’t help. Years ago, when I urged her to make the Aerotropolis a big-time economic development priority, she sniffed, “too many moving parts.”

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