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Task Force Delivers Economic Growth Strategy For Port Columbus

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman’s task force designed to maximize economic development around Port Columbus made its final recommendations Wednesday morning. The Jobs Expansion and Transportation Task Force made just three recommendations to boost economic development in the area around the airport: get more direct flights, better market the region and create more transportation options to and from the airport. Last week, the city announced a new direct flight from Port Columbus. Southwest will offer the service to the San Francisco Bay Area. The JET task force says Columbus needs more flights like that. The group singled out west coast and European air carriers. But as one task force member put it, Columbus isn’t on their radars. So how will Columbus do it? The city simply intends to call them up. Milestone Aviation Group president Daniel Rosenthal, who oversaw the task force, said Columbus will have to talk past the numbers airlines expect to hear. He said Columbus needs to position itself as a community to airlines, get personal with them, if it wants to more flights. “When we have the conversation, when we initiate it, and call the airline at the highest of levels, and say here’s what’s going on in Columbus. Here’s where we’re going from an economic development strategy, here’s where we’re going as an overall community," he said. "It’s a very different conversation than looking at the number of passengers from point A to point B.” Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission executive director William Murdock oversaw the transportation part of the task force. While Murdock said direct flights play a critical role in how the area around airport can support economic growth, he says there's more that comes into play. "How does air service leverage actual economic development, and how does connecting bus service to the airport change things? And how do some of these bigger ideas really create more than the sum of the parts?" Murdock said Columbus should take advantage of the airport’s proximity to downtown. The committee recommends a multi-transportation center at the airport…get behind COTAs efforts to provide service from downtown to the airport by next year…and push for rail line to downtown. Murdock said positioning these services as economic drivers will help leaders secure funding. “Whatever the service we’re adding, be it rail or bus transit or these other things, additional mechanisms to do that could be really supported at all levels," Murdock said. "And we think that if their business case is there it speaks for itself.” Industry experts say the Bay Area flight will have a $20 million annual economic impact on the region. The task force suggests a European flight could generate as much as $50 million a year. But the Port Columbus area will have to be heavily promoted, and right now, Jean Carter Ryan, who chaired the economic committee, said the region does not have a cohesive marketing strategy. Carter Ryan said there’s a need for more public and private promotion for investment in transportation, infrastructure and overall appearance at and around the airport so that possible investors see its potential. And one challenge the region faces is limited sites for new development. Carter Ryan said the goal is to maximize what’s available. “We looked at every single available site and put together a list so that we can market those more effectively to really bring in some opportunities for new investment within the actual airport study area.” The task force recommends the creation of an airport development district to ensure the recommendations are realized.