Harford's pitch for airfield

Tech park: Use of APG airstrip could spur development and stave off cuts at proving ground.

January 23, 2001

IT'S NOT OFTEN that local government gets a chance to acquire joint ownership of prime property next to a military airfield that holds vast economic development potential.

Yet that's the situation in Harford County, where the county council votes today on measures to locate aviation-related businesses at Phillips Army Airfield on the Aberdeen Proving Ground.

This doesn't just hold huge economic potential for the county. It could also ward off future downsizing efforts at APG during the next round of military base closings.

Harford County officials envision an avionics technology park on the site, along with corporate aircraft hangars, aircraft repair facilities and buildings to handle specialized cargo.

The draw would be the control tower and 8,000-foot runway at Phillips -- one of the longer runways on the East Coast -- proximity to two major metropolitan regions and the ability to utilize certain test facilities at APG.

Already, state officials have been contacted by a major aviation company looking at Phillips as a repair site. It could serve as a maintenance center for aviation firms at Baltimore-Washington International Airport or Philadelphia's large airport.

Dozens of companies have offices in Harford County to be near APG's military testing and evaluation sites. A tech park at Phillips Army Airfield could enhance APG's value to the county as its major economic engine.

No county funds are required to make this happen. What's needed is creation of an airfield authority, as required by the Federal Aviation Administration. This project has the backing of the FAA and the Maryland transportation department, as well as local business groups, the Greater Baltimore Alliance and Harford County Executive James M. Harkins.

Similar joint military-civilian airfield ventures have succeeded in San Antonio, Texas, and Jacksonville, Fla. There is federal money readily available to spur such conversions. It's a golden opportunity that Harford's council members should eagerly embrace.

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