County still working toward development

ALPENA – Despite being denied one of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Center of Excellence designations for unmanned aircrafts, the Alpena Board of Commissioners is still working to lure aviation companies, as well as others, to Alpena County Regional Airport.

Last month the county agreed to continue its relationship with consulting firm Explorer Solutions, which was hired to help find a niche service for the airport and line up potential development opportunities. It also hired Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Director Jim Klarich, via Target Alpena, to assist in the search for companies that may have interest in starting businesses locally.

Commission Cam Habermehl said the county is in the process of finalizing the new deal with Explorer Solutions, which it would use as needed. He said although there is nothing near the construction point locally, there is a lot of work being done behind the scenes.

“We knew when we started this process with Explorer Solution that it would be a long, hard road. We knew it could take as long as five years before we could see development,” Habermehl said. “The pursuit of the Center of Excellence did slow us down because we were rolling before it was announced. Some of the companies we were working with also wanted to see how that played out. Now we’re back on course and I think we’ll still be fine without it.”

Habermehl said the county is three years into its effort to develop the property at the airport. He said the county still is working closely with the Michigan Advanced Aerial Systems coalition, whose goal is to grow unmanned aircraft business in the state. He said he looks forward to attending the next MIAASC meeting so the county can get a better idea of the group’s direction moving forward.

“We want to see what the plans are and what steps need to be taken next,” Habermehl said. “We were unable to attend the last meeting, but we will be at the next and will get more information on what the MIAASC’s next move will be.”

The land on the edge of Airport Road has the needed infrastructure in place and is ready to have developers break ground. The parcels further off the road still need water and sewer, as well as class A roads before being ready for an occupant. Habermehl said the county is researching ways to have the needed work funded.

“We are trying to find grants and funding so we don’t have to cover the cost of this alone,” Habermehl said. “The problem with getting it from the state is that before they issue a grant, they want a commitment of so many jobs in advance. That is sort of like what came first, the chicken and the egg. We need to have the work done to create the jobs, but they won’t give us the money until the jobs are created. We’re looking into other funding sources however.”

Habermehl said he understands the impatience of people who are not seeing results yet. He said they may be able to see some development in the near future.

“This all takes time,” Habermehl said. “I think in the next year or so you will see something happen, or at least there will be some sort of announcements.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at www.thealpenanews.com.