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Airport chief to pitch Hawker site in U.K.

By Jack Weatherly

This article was published April 16, 2014 at 3:26 a.m.


The Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission is sending its executive director to England to market the vacant Hawker Beechcraft facility shown in this 2013 file photo.

The Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission on Tuesday approved spending $6,000 to send its executive director, Ron Mathieu, to the Farnborough International Air Show in England in July to market the old Hawker Beechcraft facility.

The commission also agreed to contribute $2,000toward the $30,000 cost of establishing a booth at the show.

Last month, the commission hired real estate brokers Sage Partners of Little Rock and Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle, which has 200 offices around the world, to market the facility. The facility was vacated after the company went through a bankruptcy reorganization.

Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field owns the facility.

Mathieu said in response to a question after the commission meeting Tuesday that Jones Lang LaSalle will not have anyone at Farnborough, which is about 30 miles southwest of London. Jones Lang LaSalle has an office in London.

Mathieu said the contract with the brokers was still being negotiated and that the brokers were still searching for a tenant for the sprawling Hawker Beechcraft site.

He said they were working without a contract “at their own risk.” The contract would involve no upfront money. The brokers would receive a percentage of the rent for securing a tenant.

Aaron Nicholson, a broker with Sage Partners, said he was familiar with the arrangement with the airport commission but had no further comment.

Phone messages left with Jones Lang LaSalle were not answered.

In 2013, a trip expense for Mathieu came under scrutiny and led to changes in policy for flights.

Mathieu and the commission members must fly coach on airport business.

That rule was instituted in March 2013 after Mathieu’s first-class ticket to an annual aviation conference in Hawaii the previous month cost $3,123.60

The old policy stated that a flight of more than four hours allowed Mathieu or commission members to upgrade their tickets.

Mathieu will join Gov. Mike Beebe; Grant Tennille, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission; and others at the air show.

“Farnborough is probably the biggest air show in the world and dates back to at least the ’30s,” said airport commission member Bob East, who is president of the Arkansas Aerospace Alliance.

The alliance represents the industry, which employs between 8,000 and 10,000. Its exports, excluding Defense Department purchases, totaled $1.8 billion in 2013, leading the state in that category, the agency said.

Scott Van Laningham, chief executive of Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Highfill, said three aviation firms and the Arkansas World Trade Center in Rogers will send a representative.

Tennille said the Farnborough event occurs on even numbered years and the Paris Air Show on odd-numbered years. He said they are essentially the same show.

“For the last few years, we have been the only Southern state that has not attended. And our absence has been noticed by some of our partners in the state, particularly by Dassault [Falcon Jet],” Tennille said. Dassault Falcon’s facility at the airport employs between 1,800 and 1,900.

Tennille said the Arkansas Aeroplex in Blytheville also will send someone.

“We think it’s important for us to be over there to help our partners grow their businesses” and also try to recruit new companies, he said.

Commission member Wesley Clark, who called in on a speaker phone, asked if the plan is to have specific target companies. “Who are we going after, and to what end?”

Tennille said he would not reveal the names of any companies in public, for fear of revealing plans to competing states. “I would happily share that information with any Arkansan, [though] I don’t necessarily want it to appear in the newspapers so that other states know exactly who we’re going over thereto talk to.”

“There will be a number of meetings with companies, both with companies that already exist and have operations in Arkansas as well as companies that we are targeting to locate here,” he said. He said the plan is to limit the number of companies going to England in order to make the trip easier to manage.

“Our goal is to help Arkansas-based companies, particularly in the [airline] fleet management repair/replacement parts, which is a growing sector of Arkansas’ business,” he said.

The airports are a key part of the effort, Tennille said, and the Blytheville facility, which used to be Eaker Air Force Base, is important because it has the longest runway in the state and “probably [has] the most potential for large industrial development.”

The Hawker Beechcraft facility at the Little Rock airport is “really an extraordinary asset,” Tennille said.

“We should use that asset to attract the highest quality companies paying the highest wages with the potential for growth,” he said.

Business, Pages 27 on 04/16/2014

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