My op-ed in the Worcester Telegram about important investments the Patrick-Murray Administration has made in the Worcester airport to attract commercial air service and grow jobs in central Massachusetts.
Airport is ready for business
The Patrick-Murray administration is committed to increasing commercial airline service at Worcester Regional Airport (ORH). On June 22, 2010, Gov. Patrick and I joined the Massachusetts Port Authority and city officials at the public signing of the contract that transferred ownership of the airport from the city of Worcester to Massport.
This transfer had been sought after for nearly 15 years, but with Mr. Patrick’s leadership and persistence we were able to work with Massport officials and the city to complete the sale. This transfer was critical because the enabling legislation that created Massport prevents it from making capital improvements to assets it does not own.
As a result, Massport was unable to invest its financial resources into the airport and fully leverage its industry expertise to attract commercial carriers as well as general and corporate aviation to ORH. Since Massport has taken ownership, however, we have seen the agency aggressively invest in the airport and recruit airline service as well as aviation-related businesses to Worcester. Additionally, Massport has played a more active and visible role in Central Massachusetts.
With this new approach and ownership, Massport is investing at ORH to spur economic activity and support business opportunities. In 2011, factoring in Direct Air’s presence and other aviation activity, there were 400 direct and indirect jobs at the airport with $51.5 million in annual economic activity, a huge impact to the Central Massachusetts economy.
To prepare for future growth, Massport has invested $9 million to date on critical infrastructure improvements, including $3 million to improve runway safety and $5.5 million to redevelop 4,000 square feet of Runway 29 and several more runways. Enhancements to the pavement, roof, and HVAC system are also currently under way.
Earlier this summer, U.S. Rep. James McGovern hosted U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Patrick-Murray administration officials for a tour of the Worcester airport to assess additional infrastructure needs. As a follow-up to that tour, Massport has offered to purchase and install a state-of-the-art CAT III Instrument Landing System, if the Federal Aviation Administration is able to operate and maintain the system.
We are currently working with Mr. McGovern in seeking this FAA commitment. To further attract new business, the Massport board has also approved an Air Service Incentive Program to waive all airport fees and charges for two years to carriers that plan to provide year-round service to a new destination.
Along with these new features, Massport is working with the private sector to create jobs and foster business development at ORH. Rectrix Aviation, recently approved to develop a fixed-base operator facility at the airport, plans to spend at least $5 million to construct a new office building and a 22,000- square-foot hangar and add 20 new full-time jobs. Additionally, by collaborating with Tecta Solar, Massport will install a photovoltaic system in both the north and south parking lots that will produce 1 megawatt of power and generate savings through energy efficiency.
Beyond the perimeters of the airport, Massport is working with the city to support local investments. When Massport acquired the airport, it agreed to pay the city $15 million, bringing in new revenue to support local services and improvements in Worcester.
For example, Massport is working with the city to fund and staff with area youth tree replanting efforts following the widespread infestation of the Asian longhorned beetle that impacted the region. The city is also using $750,000 of the $15 million to invest in field renovations, new lighting, bleachers, and playgrounds at local parks including Spillane Field, Bennett Field, and Logan Field. Through its Community Giving Grants Program, Massport is demonstrating further commitment to the city by donating $5,000 to the Jesse Burkett Little League to purchase new uniforms and equipment and maintain park facilities.
This new strategy and Massport’s investments are paying off. State and local officials recently hosted David J. Barger, the CEO of JetBlue, in Worcester to learn about these investments and how enhancements at ORH will support commercial airline service. As the demand continues to increase at Logan and Massport expands its portfolio of international flights like the recently successful launch of nonstop service between Boston and Tokyo, we will continue to position Worcester as a viable, regional alternative to support commercial airline service.
We are moving forward with strategic investments in Worcester to improve infrastructure that will increase opportunities for this service and customer convenience. Worcester is ready for business, and we need to promote the work we are doing at ORH to attract high-profile, competitive airlines and support regional transportation for residents and businesses. The end result will mean more jobs and a better quality of life for Worcester and Central Massachusetts.
Timothy P. Murray is the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts.