In an effort to boost economic activity, the Connecticut Airport Authority wants to establish development zones around the state's smaller aviation facilities.
While Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks already has a development zone, CAA is eyeing the five general aviation airports, including Hartford-Brainard, Oxford, Groton-New London, Windham, and Danielson in Killingly.
"This enhances the thousands and thousands of acres of land around the airport into a development complex," said Andrew McGeever, economic development director for Oxford.
Putting zones around these airports where businesses can receive special tax incentives is part of the CAA's general aviation business plan, and the authority has been exploring the possibilities with each individual town.
"The zones can serve as an economic catalyst around these airports," said CAA Executive Director Kevin Dillon.
Of the five general aviation airports, the furthest along toward a development zone is Oxford, said Dillon. the Department of Economic and Community Development is currently reviewing the zone, and CAA will make the final call whetherto establish it. Windham also has expressed interest.
"We expect to be off and running on that as soon as it gets approved," McGeever said. The development zone could bring 10,000 new jobs to Oxford over the next 10 years.
Despite the economic benefit a development zone could bring to an individual area, the state needs to be wary of installing too many of these tax-break zones, said State Sen. Gary LeBeau (D-East Hartford), who as co-chair of the legislature's Commerce Committee played an integral role in the creation of CAA and the Bradley Airport Development Zone.
"I did not have the intention of putting development zones around the general aviation airports," LeBeau said. "I would caution against moving too quickly on that."
Connecticut already has 17 enterprise zones, including in Hartford, where incoming businesses can achieve tax breaks, LeBeau said. Putting in too many more will make it difficult for the non-development zone areas to compete.
"Oxford certainly is one of the wealthier towns in the state, so I'm not sure they need a development zone," LeBeau said. "To say automatically that all the airports should have development zones around them, that would be a really precipitous action."
The area around Hartford-Brainard is already fairly developed with businesses, although most don't use the airport, said Kurt Sendlein, airport operations coordinator at Brainard.
Most of the 75,000 takeoffs and landings annually at Brainard involve personal use aircraft, although some corporate jets do use the facility, Sendlein said. Hartford insurer Aetna previously based its helicopter operations at Brainard before transferring them to Bradley.
The main issue with Brainard is its 4,400-foot runway. Commercial jets need a 7,000-foot runway.
"It works wells for light business jets, but the larger commercial operations need significantly longer," Sendlein said.
Still, Brainard could work as an economic driver for Hartford, especially if the benefits are worth the tax breaks, said Thomas Deller, director of development services for the City of Hartford.
"To be frank, I hadn't thought about it, but now I will," Deller said. "Growing business is important, and we will have to take a look at that and see what the benefit is."
Although the area around Brainard largely is developed, it does have some vacant land, and a development zone could help fill those parcels, Deller said.
"We are always looking for more businesses and jobs," Deller said.
A Brainard development zone would be redundant, LeBeau said, as all of Hartford already is an enterprise zone and can offer the same tax breaks as a development zone.
"There really is not a need for Brainard," LeBeau said.
The legislature gave CAA the authority to create the airport zones in 2012. Towns much first contact DECD to perform a study on the viability of a zone.
"We certainly brought it to the attention of the municipalities, but it is up to them to initiate with DECD," Dillon said.
LeBeau said CAA needs to tread carefully, because the authority doesn't want to dilute the viability of the Bradley zone.
"My focus remains on Bradley International and that development zone," LeBeau said.
Dillon said the small development zones could help Bradley by spurring activity around all state aviation facilities.
"They actually complement one another," Dillon said. "There are unique development opoportunities around all the airports here."