Despite watching what President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder called “missed opportunities” for new commerce slip through the cracks, the county’s new Economic Development Authority is still approaching the realization of a federal Foreign Trade Zone at the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport.
A timetable for submission of the official FTZ federal application was circulated at Monday’s special authority meeting. Other details were enumerated – like discussions with Chinese investors and incoming factory proposals, the authority board’s continued lack of an executive director and subsequent, nonexistent budget model – as well as assertions from Lengenfelder that the Richland Township supervisors showed no interest in creating a Keystone Opportunity Zone in the area.
State-sponsored KOZ developments are property tax-exempt for a number of years, but require county, municipal and school district approval. The airport FTZ would allow foreign businesses tariff and duty relief, among other benefits, through investment in the KOZ.
Board member Raymond Arcurio detailed his contact with Dr. William Pan, who requested preliminary info from the board to assist the firm he represents in making decisions.
He said the investments would come in the form of an LED light factory, children’s bicycle factory, synthetic leather factory or a mushroom farm. He said the investors are reviewing the information provided and the authority should expect a proposal after the first of the year.
Lengenfelder shook his head in disappointment when board member Samuel Catanese mentioned a New Zealand firm that could have been courted had the FTZ already been in place. Lengenfelder called it a “classic example” of why the authority needs to get the groundwork laid for the FTZ and keep more foreign investors from falling through its fingers.
According to the schedule, the application will be submitted on March 14. Lengenfelder said the submission date for final approval to fall within a previously discussed September window would be sometime in January.
Meanwhile, the authority is still on the hunt for an executive director, holding a long executive session Monday on that topic. Board member Robert Gleason said one candidate was interviewed Monday. During a nearly hourlong executive session, Dan Richardson, sourcing manager at Lockheed Martin, was called in but it was unclear why.
Gleason said that until an executive director is named, the authority will be unable to create a budget model.
Lengenfelder asserted at the meeting that the Richland supervisors showed disinterest in a local KOZ, telling The Tribune-Democrat in September that Richland officials felt it would lead to increased township spending with no immediate return.
“We’re going to reapply through them to see if we can change their minds,” said authority Chairman Rex McQuaide. “I think if they see there’s a concerted effort by the county in conjunction with this board and JARI – if we give them additional information, additional details so that they can come to understand that we need a level playing field with those other communities we compete with for jobs and industry.
“I think we’ll have a better shot at convincing them of the urgency and the need for this.”
But supervisors Vice Chairman Wayne Langerholc is just as confused as when this detail was revealed in September.
“There has been no formal presentation regarding that in a public meeting,” he said. “I’ve not met with them, they haven’t met with us. We meet every other Monday at 7 o’clock. (Lengenfelder’s) not been to any of those meetings.
“That’s a decision that needs to be made in a public setting. The public should be privy to it as well.”
Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/JustinDennis.