Sunday, July 28, 2013

Editorial: Airport proposals could be the start of something big -- Nut Tree (KVCB), Vacaville, California

Here's a word that northern Solano County residents may want to keep in mind as proposed developments takes shape in and around the Nut Tree Airport: synergy.

The dictionary defines it as "the simultaneous action of separate agencies which, together, have a greater total effect than the sum of their individual effects" -- precisely what may be happening at the airport in Vacaville.

In April, Solano County, which operates the airport, joined with the city of Vacaville and Solano Community College in agreeing to officially negotiate with the Jimmy Doolittle Air and Space Museum Education Foundation to bring a museum to the Nut Tree facility.

More than a museum, actually. The preliminary proposal for the 21-acre site includes a museum, an air park, a multi-use facility that could accommodate up to 1,000 people, a hotel, a restaurant and an education and restoration center.

The education and restoration center would include space for Solano Community College's aviation program, which already operates at the airport.

Now, another party has entered the big picture.

This month, the city of Vacaville turned what had been informal discussions into formal negotiations with ICON Aircraft Inc., a Los Angeles company that wants to build light recreational aircraft on property at the edge of the Nut Tree Airport.

Besides building and selling its lightweight sports plane there, the company eventually hopes to house a training center at the site.

Talk about potential synergy!

Those three projects alone -- an aircraft manufacturer, an accredited aviation college program and an aviation museum -- could feed off each other.

The college and the Jimmy Doolittle Foundation have already discovered that they can help each other, SCC President Jowell Laguerre recently told The Reporter Editorial Board.

In recent years, some of SCC's aviation students have been volunteering with the foundation, helping it maintain aircraft currently on display at the Travis Air Force Base Heritage Center. The foundation benefits from the volunteer labor and the students get some hands-on experience in maintaining aircraft.

If ICON comes in, it could bring as many as 500 manufacturing jobs, at least some of which will almost certainly require workers with aviation training. SCC's aviation graduates would seem to be well placed -- and President Laguerre says the college is open to expanding that program to fill the needs of the job market.

Meanwhile, ICON's proposed training center would bring in people who want to learn to fly its aircraft. In their off hours, those visitors might very well wish to spend time at an aviation museum.

If they liked it well enough, they might even fly back in to the airport from time to time to revisit it, and maybe bring along their friends.

There's also potential for other businesses to benefit from these projects. ICON will need materials and parts to build its planes. Perhaps some will be made around here.

Both pilots in training and museum visitors will need places to stay and restaurants in which to dine. That might finally bring about the hotel and upscale restaurants initially proposed to accompany the Nut Tree shopping center.

And if there are enough people trying to get from the airport to the shopping center on a regular basis, might the Nut Tree Train once again run between the two? Plenty of local residents would welcome that.

Of course, there are still a lot of "ifs" to all of these plans: The Doolittle Foundation is still trying to raise the initial $2 million to purchase the property. It hasn't even started on funding the actual museum.

ICON is still negotiating with the city and has other sites in mind, too. Even if it locates here, there's no guarantee it will succeed as a business.

The college has bond money to put toward building classrooms for its aviation program, but as a public school, its program funding is tied to the shaky fortunes of the state.

Still, even if two of these three ventures take root, it could be the welcome start of something big.

Synergy, indeed.