Staffer Would Serve as Contact for Businesses Interested in NextGen Facility
TRENTON – A resolution sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan which urges the State Department of Transportation (DOT) to assign a staffer to serve as liaison to the Next Generation Aviation Research and Technology Park in Egg Harbor Township was approved by the Senate today.
“The Aviation Park in Egg Harbor Township represents a needed component in the economic diversification and continued viability of the South Jersey economy,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “Tourism will likely continue to be our chief economic engine, but if the recent global recession has taught us anything, it’s that we cannot rely on tourism alone to put our people to work. The approved NextGen Aviation Park at the FAA’s technical center in Egg Harbor will create thousands of high-paying jobs when completed, and a DOT-assigned liaison would go a long way to encourage public-private partnership and greater investment in our regional economy.”
The resolution, SR-15, would request the Commissioner of Transportation to assign a current DOT employee to serve as a liaison to the NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park in South Jersey. The 58-acre, $307.5 million facility at the Federal Aviation Administration technical center in Egg Harbor Township, adjacent to Atlantic City International Airport, is expected to take more than five years to be fully completed, and will create 4,600 construction jobs during the phased-in construction period, and 2,000 high-paying permanent jobs for the region. Construction at the site has already begun, and the first phase is scheduled to be completed by late September of this year.
The Egg Harbor Township facility is part of the federal Next Generation Air Transportation System Initiative, a project designed to address the evolving technological needs of civil aviation, national defense and homeland security in the 21st Century. One of the key responsibilities for the initiative is developing a new satellite-based air traffic control system to replace the 70-year-old radar system currently being used. Proponents of the new system say it will speed up travel time and cut down on maintenance costs for the radar system.
Senator Whelan noted that a dedicated staff liaison in the Department of Transportation for private contractors interested in the NextGen facility would serve as a selling point, and would hopefully encourage greater public-private partnership at the facility. He added that last month, the first contracts were awarded to private contractors through the FAA. Officials for Boeing, ITT and General Dynamics, the three contractors who won the $4.4 billion contract, said it was too early to tell how much of the funding would remain in the region from this first round of awards, but said it would probably be in the realm of hundreds of millions of dollars spent locally. The federal government plans to award $7 billion in total contracts this year, and the initiative is projected to cost $22 billion by 2025.
“It’s not a question of if this project will be built or if it will help recharge our regional economy, but when,” said Senator Whelan. “And from where I’m standing, we need this kind of economic catalyst sooner, rather than later. If a staff liaison can encourage greater investment faster, then it’s a good use of State resources.”
Senator Whelan said that the aviation park represents a needed shot in the arm for the region’s construction trades, which have experienced massive unemployment in recent years. In 2009, unemployment in the South Jersey construction trades fell 17 percent. He added that not only will the construction of the aviation park put people to work, but it would also provide needed leverage for other projects in the works, included a related aviation training facility at the Atlantic Cape Community College and an 80,000 square foot office building and hotel and conference center in Mays Landing.
“We have people ready to go back to work now, and we should do everything we can to expedite the construction and opening of the Egg Harbor Aviation Park,” said Senator Whelan. “The aviation research facility in Egg Harbor Township could serve as a business incubator for the entire region, creating projects and economic activity directly and indirectly related to the work being conducted at the facility. At a time when South Jersey is experiencing record unemployment, we need to tap every tool at our disposal to create new economic opportunities, and a Department of Transportation business liaison for the NextGen Aviation Research Park will hopefully do just that.”
An authenticated copy of the resolution will now be sent to the Commissioner of Transportation. Senator Whelan added that he would be willing to work with the Commissioner to provide any legislative support needed to assign a staff liaison to serve the NextGen facility.