ALPENA -After the Alpena County Board of Commissioners learned the property the county owns near the Alpena County Regional Airport was a renaissance zone in name only and have lost a pair of potential economic development projects because of it.
Because of that, the commissioners voted to form a property ad hoc committee to look into the land on M-32 and found it was not split into parcels, as well as another important fact - the Federal Aviation Administration would not allow the county to sell much of the land, only lease it. After a lot of hard work and communications with the FAA, the county can now sell or lease the land
Commissioner Gerald Founier was appointed to lead the effort to devise a plan that would make it simple for potential developers to select a plot or plots of land and have all the information at their fingertips. Now, the work done on the property previously will make the land more attractive to those wishing to participate in the unmanned aircraft project at the airport.
On Wednesday Fournier and Commissioner Lyle VanWormer explained the timeline from the period when the county was turned down by potential developers through current plans at the airport. One thing is clear VanWormer said, the possibility of Alpena receiving one of the Centers of Excellence designation from the federal government would not be considered if it wasn't for the measures taken on the land and the hard work and long hours put into the job by Fournier.
"Gerald's work has been critical and will be critical as we move ahead because you have to be able to go back to where everything started and he has been involved since the beginning and he knows all of the ins and outs of the property," VanWormer said.
Fournier said he has spent countless hours working from home and walking the property while surveyors staked out the boundaries of the sections and now that everything is in order it will be simpler to make a presentation to a potential partner.
"We had property out there, but we could have done anything with it. We literally had to start from scratch with configuring the property. The zones were on paper, but there was nothing done to the land itself," Fournier said. "We had to bring everything up to date now it is done, plotted and ready to be used. We had to have this. That way when companies come here we can set something in front of them and say here is what we have and what do you want. You can't get a company in here and tell them we need to get zoning changes. They will not wait. This project never have a chance if we hadn't done what we did."
VanWormer said the business cluster compiled by Explorer Solutions, which helped guide the county to the unmanned aircraft project, contains over 40 partners. He said the property holds about the same number or available lots. He said besides the land the county also has done a lot of work to get the needed infrastructure in place to make it more appealing for suitors.
"We have everything a company would want. We have a place to drain parking lots, we have water and sewer, fiber optics will be out there soon and an airport across the street," Fournier said. "There is everything a company needs. We are trying to make it as favorable as possible in business people's eyes so they will come here."
The county has entered into several partnerships with entities that have expressed interest in moving forward with research and development should the county move forward with the unmanned aircraft projects and is granted the federal designation. VanWomer said the arrival of SkyWest Airlines coupled with development near the airport also will help the airport itself.
"In the airport's master plan we have plans for a new terminal which would be twice as large as the one we have now," VanWormer said. "If the companies come here many people will have to fly in and out and SkWest should benefit, as well as the county and maybe we will be able to get the new terminal built."