Legacy funds let trade take flight

March 11th, 2014

News Coverage:

Journal Gazette

Published: March 11, 2014 3:00 a.m.

Legacy funds let trade take flight

Council should OK investment plan

Our history of the rise and fall of great, wealthy cities and nations is easily told simply by looking at their economic trade routes. Those trade routes are no less vital to our region’s economic future today than when Columbus set sail, Alexander Graham Bell placed the first call, the Wright Brothers took flight or broadband became a mode of business investment. All connect trade.

As we work fast and furious in northeast Indiana to expand economic opportunity for all, we must seize every avenue to expand our trade routes.

Fort Wayne City Council has been weighing the possibility of allocating up to $600,000 in Legacy Fund money to support attracting a new flight to Fort Wayne International Airport and will vote on the matter at its meeting tonight.

Through my former involvement as a member of City Council and the Legacy Fund and my current involvement in Vision 2020’s air service effort, I urge the council to support the use of funds for this important economic development tool and new trade route.

Legacy funds would be leveraged with private-sector funds and grants that have already been committed to this project. The Regional Opportunities Council, which oversees the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s Vision 2020 initiative, has already voted to commit $50,000.

Additionally, a $600,000 grant from the Small Community Air Service Development Program was awarded to the Fort Wayne Allen County Airport Authority last fall to help bring a new flight to FWA.

I served on the original Legacy Fund task force and then served on its Economic Development Champion team.

During my time on the team, we focused on using Legacy funds for big-impact opportunities, even if they involved risk. Our focus was on growing, gaining and retaining living-wage employers.

Air connectivity is fundamental to that goal.

The revenue guarantee program is a prime opportunity envisioned within the Legacy process and aligns with Legacy’s ultimate goals, and it exceeds Legacy’s matching parameters.

To be frank, I was not originally a fan of the guarantee. However, I spent the last year on the Regional Air Service Committee, convened by Vision 2020 and the Airport Authority, and learned the following about the region’s air connectivity challenges and opportunities:

1. For a city of our size and region, with today’s air service industry, we do OK.

2. With reduction of fleets and flights from corners throughout the country, we are lucky to keep what we have.

Cleveland and Toledo are losing substantial connectivity, for example.

3. This is a great and extremely rare opportunity to add a new route from Fort Wayne to an area where we currently do not have direct access – the Northeast – which is the most powerful financial sector in the world. We may not attract this opportunity again for many years.

4. Air connectivity ought to be thought of like roads, sidewalks, sewers and energy. It is a utility from which we all benefit and need, and it hugely affects our standard of living.

If I still served on the City Council and had not spent the last year getting informed about our region’s air service, I would be dubious of using any Legacy dollars for a revenue guarantee program.

But knowing what I know today, I would tell my neighbors and constituents that this is a vital, important and transformative investment.

This is the very type of thing winning cities are doing. It’s aggressive. It’s forward thinking.

And it would mean that we would be betting on ourselves to succeed.

But more fundamentally, we need to take this modest risk if we want to compete for trade that gains, retains and grows living-wage jobs for all of us.

Tim Pape is a managing partner at Carson Boxberger and formerly a Democratic city councilman. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.