Saturday, October 31, 2015

Stockton Aviation Research and Technology Park proponents envision tax-incentive 'mega project'

Entrance to the the Stockton Aviation Research and Technology Park, formerly known as the NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park, in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey.  

Joseph Sheairs, the new executive director of the Stockton Aviation Research and Technology Park. 

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, NEW JERSEY — The long-stalled Stockton Aviation Research and Technology Park may qualify for the state’s highest level of tax breaks, finally allowing it to attract companies such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing, according to its director.

Park Executive Director Joseph Sheairs said the New Jersey Economic Development Authority recently approached him and is willing to look at treating several businesses expected to move in as one entity.

That would give it “mega project” status and allow it to offer the same incentives to businesses as those offered by Garden State Growth Zone cities, making the location more competitive with less expensive areas of the country. Companies could earn millions in tax credits to offset higher rents.

NJEDA spokeswoman Rebecca Nelson said Thursday that the authority does not comment on specific situations prior to board action.

“We think it is fantastic but are still looking for the details,” Sheairs said.

Previously, it appeared each business that moved in would be treated separately, and most would not meet the 250-employee, $20 million capital investment threshold.

One Atlantic County official doesn’t want to stop there. Freeholder Chairman Frank Formica is pushing to have the entire airport property and a mile out from its perimeter designated a Garden State Growth Zone.

That way, businesses of all sizes and types could get the incentives, he said.

But state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, is skeptical about adding the airport to the list of GSGZs.

“I’d love to do it, but I’m not going to mislead people. We can’t wave a magic wand and get this done,” said Whelan. “It’s not as easy as passing a freeholder resolution.”

Even if the research park gets special status, Formica said the designation would be important for the entire airport area.

“Remember, only certain businesses can locate in that park, under FAA restrictions,” Formica said. They must be working in aviation-related research or technology.

“If you had a Growth Zone designation, all those empty warehouses in Egg Harbor Township off Delilah Road and possibly the racetrack site (in Mays Landing) would qualify,” Formica said.

He said businesses such as freight companies and other types of tech companies might then move into the one-mile radius zone.

Whelan said he worked with sponsors of the Economic Opportunity Act of 2014 to get the airport and a mile out from its perimeter designated a special aviation district. That allowed mega projects at the airport to qualify for the same level of tax credits and other incentives as Garden State Growth Zones.

The 2014 legislation set rules for all of the state’s economic development incentive programs, administered by the NJEDA. It added Atlantic City to the list of GSGZs in addition to Camden, Trenton, Passaic and Paterson.

It also set up incentives, though at a lesser level than GSGZs, for projects in the eight southernmost counties of the state.

Political realities will get in the way of giving the airport that status, Whelan predicted. It would only ignite similar requests from all over the state, he said.

But Formica said the airport’s role in the FAA’s unmanned aircraft systems research and testing in the state will make it easier to argue that its situation is unique. A New Jersey-Virginia partnership that includes the William J. Hughes Technical Center was one of six UAS sites chosen by the FAA in 2013.

The bleak economic reality Atlantic County faces, with the nation’s highest housing foreclosure rate and 102,000 of 275,000 residents on some type of assistance — including 48,000 on food stamps — also gives it more of a chance of winning that designation, he said.

The high cost of doing business in New Jersey, including construction costs, means businesses leasing space must pay higher rents. Only substantial tax incentives can overcome it, Formica said.

Rents are lower at competing research and test sites for unmanned aircraft systems in other states, Formica said. Other states selected by the FAA include Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota and Texas.

Formica said he has discussed his idea with state Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, and state Sens. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, and Jim Beach, D-Camden, as well as some Republicans, he said.

They have expressed support for the idea but are still researching how it might be done, Formica said.

“Certainly anything that brings jobs, money, businesses and economic energy into deep South Jersey is something I support,” Van Drew said Wednesday.

The state has made exceptions before — specifically, allowing casino gaming in the resort, Van Drew said.

“It’s a heavy lift, but shame on us if we didn’t try,” he said.

Sweeney’s office declined comment.

Garden State Growth Zones are now only in cities with severe economic challenges. It would take state legislation to change that, said NJEDA spokeswoman Virginia Pellerin.

But Whelan said it was difficult to get Atlantic City itself included as a GSGZ, with some lawmakers convinced the city’s gaming revenue is still too high for it to be included.

Read more here:

No comments:

Post a Comment