Dutch explorers came to Hartford in the early 17th century and opened a trading post at what is still called Dutch Point. So there's a certain historical symmetry in Amsterdam being the terminus for Hartford's first regular trans-Atlantic air service.
The announcement Wednesday that Northwest Airlines will start daily, nonstop service next summer between Amsterdam and Bradley International Airport is, of course, good news. It's been a dream of state officials, starting with Gov. William O'Neill, for three decades. We can now say the "International" part of the airport's name without a wink and a nudge.
More substantively, the new service will give Southern New England direct access to a major European hub - a destination itself and a link to major cities across Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
It also affords a rare opportunity for economic development. Like those intrepid Dutch sailors who came here, Connecticut officials must look for trading opportunities. To that end, it might behoove Gov. M. Jodi Rell to look at the marketing structure at the airport.
The airport is run by the state Department of Transportation, one of the very few state-run airports in the country.
The department runs an excellent air operation, but has been criticized for not being aggressively entrepreneurial in developing business at Bradley.
Two years ago, the airport hired a highly regarded marketing director, Kiran Jain, a key player in the Northwest deal. This year, the marketing budget was cut.
Business marketing around the airport is led by the Bradley Development League, a consortium of the four towns - Suffield, East Granby, Windsor and Windsor Locks - that surround the airport. The league does yeoman work but is undermanned. It is staffed by the economic development directors of the towns, who have other duties (and two of the towns share a development director). The MetroHartford Alliance and state development agencies are involved as well. Now may be the time to strengthen and focus the effort.
The airport towns have attracted some major European firms, such as Ahlstrom Corp., the Finnish multinational paper and fiber firm that bought Dexter Corp., and Alstom, the French energy and rail company. There's room for more.
There are entrepreneurial opportunities. A decade ago, the development league tried, and nearly succeeded, in creating a distribution center for flowers and other perishables coming into the Northeast from Europe (Dutch tulips) and South America. It may be time to revisit this idea.
The airport has a new master plan that calls for a variety of improvements that should make it more competitive. State and development league officials should look at improving the look of Route 75 as well as its pedestrian environment.
There are 2,500 to 3,000 acres of land that can be developed around the airport. Done right, it can be a vast benefit to the Connecticut economy
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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