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Ogden airport pinning hopes on Bombardier Aerospace

State, local and regional officials still have their fingers crossed that Bombardier Aerospace will tab Ogden Hinckley Airport for a new facility, despite the company's reluctance to expand its operations.

The reasons are obvious: jobs, taxes and, less tangible, a boost to the area's morale.

Montreal-based Bombardier has been in negotiations with Utahns to possibly place an aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul facility at the Ogden Airport Gateway Center, a 30-acre development under construction by Kemp Development Inc. at the southern end of the airport.

Helping the state in competition with other areas trying to land the facility is recently passed HB316, which provides partial rebates of new taxes generated as an incentive to create new jobs and economic development at aerospace and aviation development zones near airports.

"Without the legislation, this would not be possible," said Bryce Gibby, project manager for Kemp Development. "With it, it creates a possibility. We now can be competitive."

A study by Canadian company Thomas Consultants shows what's at stake. A major anchor at the development — either Bombardier or a comparable company — could mean on-site direct employment of 1,000 people by 2006 and 1,221 by 2010. Total direct, indirect and induced employment would total 3,702 by 2006 and 4,516 by 2010.

The consultant study also shows annual gross employment income of all those jobs would total $154 million by 2006 and $203 million by 2010. State income tax coffers would grow by $7.8 million annually by 2006 and $10.3 million by 2010. Employee housing property tax value would reach $534 million by 2006 and $691 million by 2010.

Employee spending would pack a $26 million wallop by 2006 and $32 million four years later.

But Bombardier Aerospace remains noncommittal, to Utah or any other site. Last week, the company said it will miss its financial targets for the fiscal year ended Jan. 31, and on Wednesday it laid off 3,000 people.

"It makes no sense to be investing or building a new facility (now)," said John Paul Macdonald, spokesman for the aerospace division.

"As for a repair and overhaul facility for our regional jets, for some months we have been considering a facility out West, but we are far from making a decision, if we do make a decision, based on the fact that we have some overcapacity at some of our existing sites. In our case, we do not have a decision pending and, in fact, we are in a consolidation mode. For us to build a greenfield facility at this time is not in our plans. We have to consider excess capacity at existing facilities."

Kemp's designs include a 188,000-square-foot building to accommodate a maintenance, repair and overhaul facility, and various officials are hopeful it will someday sport the Bombardier Aerospace name.

"There are no MROs in the Western U.S. for regional jet aircraft, so Ogden has a great opportunity to get on the ground of that and also for supply-chain recruitment, because lots of vendors that would provide services to the company probably would locate in close proximity," said Ron Kusina, Weber County's economic development director and leader of the Chamber Ogden/Weber.

"They (Bombardier) may push things out, but as soon as the aviation industry gets back, the strongest growth will be in the regional jets," said David Harmer, executive director of the Utah Department of Community and Economic Development. "They will be the most popular, and they'll still see a need for a facility in the West."

Ogden Hinckley Airport has many advantages over possible sites in other states, Gibby said, noting its central location in the West, its relative lack of congestion and the quality of the local work force. Harmer mentioned the skilled labor force with experience in maintaining and overhauling aircraft. "There are 20,000 people focused on that activity at Hill Air Force Base," he said.

Also, SkyWest, which uses Bombardier's Canadair aircraft, is based in St. George, although it currently uses a different company for maintenance services.

But HB316, if it becomes law, could help the area avoid a repeat of potential job losses experienced in November when jet engine manufacturer Williams International, which already has a plant in Ogden, opted to put a $268 million manufacturing and service facility in Alabama. It is expected to eventually have 700 workers.

"That's what drove a lot of this," Harmer said. "We were very disappointed we were unable to win the Williams deal. I don't blame Williams. We didn't have the tools to be competitive."

HB316 will change that, supporters say.

"We haven't had an opportunity as a state to attract these types of businesses and offer incentives to attract them without this particular piece of legislation," the bill's sponsor, Rep. Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said.

The bill, proponents say, also protects the state because the rebates don't kick in until the company puts operations in place, makes investments and expands the job base. "These can't be jobs transferred from any other area in the state. We're talking new positions here," Dee said.

Currently, only Salt Lake City International Airport, Ogden Hinckley and Hill Air Force Base meet the criteria for development under the bill, but a required review of the bill's success in 2006 could prompt an expansion to other airports.

"For some time, we've been looking at getting communities with regional airports to get to use those as economic development tools and work to come up with plans to attract businesses and jobs," Harmer said. "This (bill) was step one to promote that idea at the various airports."