Monday, July 01, 2013

How the $60M expansion deal for Dassault Falcon happened

Dassault Falcon Jet’s $60 million, 250,000-SF expansion announced in May was the result of years of state and federal officials toiling to make the Clinton National Airport the best location for the jet finishing facility.

“This is a culmination — at least for me — of seven years of work to try to get Dassault Falcon to expand here and stay here,” said Ron Mathieu, executive director of the Clinton National Airport. “I don’t think people really understand the level of work and commitment that goes on behind the scenes to ensure we can keep our flagship tenants here on the airport.”

In 2009, city officials including Mathieu traveled to France with Gov. Mike Beebe and met with Dassault’s top brass.

“We were recognizing that Dassault was looking, at that time, to create the project that was recently announced,” said Jay Chesshir, president and CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Chesshir and others emphasized the city’s willingness to work with the company toward making the expansion a reality, Chesshir said. If Little Rock had lost the expansion, Dassault would have kept its facility in Little Rock, but the larger finishing facility would be built elsewhere and around 400 of the current 1,800 jobs would have been transferred there from Little Rock.

“We knew we were in a stiff, competitive battle for the project,” Chesshir said. “We also knew that if we lost the project it would mean a significant loss of jobs, much less the capacity and ability to continue to expand the Dassault facility in the future.”

What Chesshir, Mathieu and others didn’t know was just how stiff the competition was: For more than five years, at least five other cities had also been aggressively pursuing the Dassault expansion. The identities of those cities have remained hush-hush, except for one, Greensboro, N.C., which announced recently that it had been in the running.

“And as we were trying to create as competitive a position as possible here, we began to look at the issues Dassault was having,” Chesshir said. “One of the major problems was available land for expansion, and two, ingress and egress, not only for their employees but also for goods, services, raw materials and that sort of thing.”

Measures Taken

The city started to focus on those issues.

Little Rock applied for a $1.9 million federal Economic Development Administration grant to expand the road leading to Dassault’s front gate, Chesshir said. In the end about $4.6 million worth of work was performed, with $1.8 million paid for by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the rest by the city. The Ninth Street corridor leading to the Dassault gate was expanded. Also, a runway was extended and Sixth Street was diverted to loop around it. The city is also paying to build a traffic circle near Dassault’s front gate.

“Other than being supportive to requests from Dassault, we wanted a more gateway appearance that would, in a way, be supportive of our honor in having them here,” said Jim Dailey, a former mayor of Little Rock who sits on the Municipal Airport Commission.

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