New airport director and first use of business zone signal push for growth around Bradley International

The appointment of a new director of Bradley International Airport and the inaugural use of the recently created Bradley Airport Development Zone are the beginning of a new push to accelerate economic growth in Connecticut, officials say.

Nufern, a global company that manufactures specialty optical fibers and related equipment, is expanding its facility in East Granby — one of four towns that make up the BADZ. The expansion and expected creation of new jobs makes the company the state’s first to become eligible for a host of tax incentives.

“Nufern’s inaugural status is a significant step for the Bradley Development zone, an important initiative,” said Connecticut Airport Authority Chairwoman Mary Ellen Jones, who is also the president of Engine Alliance, a joint General Electric and Pratt & Whitney venture based in East Hartford. “The CAA would ensure that this job-growth program continues to move forward.”

Kevin Dillon, the airport’s newly hired executive director, says he has big plans to continue stimulating business and job growth around the airport, too. He hopes to make it competitive with Logan International in Boston and LaGuardia in New York City, he said.

Dillon is scheduled to take over on July 16. He comes to Connecticut from Rhode Island, where he has been president and CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corp. — operator of T.F. Green Airport and five general aviation airports — since 2008.

As major infrastructural changes in the BDZ are made, he said, the authority will extend tax credits to firms that use the airport for distribution or manufacturing as well as other aviation-related businesses that develop or acquire property in the zone and foster job growth.

Dillon has held senior-level positions at some of the largest aviation organizations in the U.S., including the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, Massachusetts Port Authority and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He worked as acting general manager at LaGuardia Airport and currently serves on the Policy Review Committee of the American Association of Airport Executives.

As he transitions from his role as chief executive of RIAC, the veteran airport director said he is looking forward to the exciting opportunity in Connecticut and “wants to change the way Bradley is run.” With over 36 years of experience in successful airport management, business and route development, he said he is confident that his plans to improve Bradley International would make it as appealing as JFK in New York City and Logan International in Boston as they compete for passengers.

“There is a huge market of passengers to capitalize on,” he said. “I want to push them to Bradley instead of Logan or LaGuardia or JFK.”

But for now, he said, he plans to work on reviving international commercial service and the development of a healthy route structure. His mission is to focus on flights to Europe and nonstop West Coast operations. For example, Delta Airlines used to operate a non-stop flight from Bradley to Amsterdam, but ceased the route as the number of passengers flying to The Netherlands did not justify the expense. Dillon’s aim is to revive such routes.

Soon after, he aims to enhance retail and concession programs that would substantially increase airport revenues. “I also want to improve freight operations (cargo services), which is a labor-intensive job and would create hundreds of jobs as well as help foster the growth of airlines.”

Job-creation is the goal of the Bradley Airport Development Zone as well. Dillon observes that the BADZ is unique in its huge potential for economic growth. The area has about 2,000 acres of developable land and easy access to major highways.

The BADZ was established through legislation in 2010. Under the law, eligible new businesses located in East Granby, Windsor, Windsor Locks and Suffield will get up to a five-year, 80-percent abatement of local property taxes and a 10-year 25 percent or 50 percent tax credit on a portion of state business taxes, said Karen Jarmoc, an airport authority board member and former state representative from Enfield.

“The expansion of Nufern is expected to add about 40 more jobs in Connecticut. I think this is a great impetus for businesses in this difficult economy,” Jarmoc said. Appointed to the CAA last fall, she currently chairs outreach initiatives with an aim to increase economic development in and around Bradley and at the state’s five general aviation airports.

“Bradley International Airport and the general aviation airport system are critical to the state economy. Once you make the airport more attractive to new airlines and bring in new routes, Connecticut’s overall economy will improve drastically,” Dillon said. But beyond route and facility development, Bradley also needs better marketing, he said. The airport disappears in the shadow of competing airports in Boston and New York City.

The challenges before Dillon are huge, but with his track record of building positive relationships with airport communities and stakeholders, he said the goal is attainable.