Flying High Upstate
04/18/03
Staff Writer
In a boost to New York's troubled upstate economy, a subsidiary of Israel Aircraft Industries will relocate its North American repair and overhaul operations from Miami to a former airbase in the Mohawk Valley later this year, it was announced Monday. The deal, expected to ultimately create 500 new jobs, came after months of lobbying by state officials, including Gov. George Pataki and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Silver met with executives of Israel's leading industrial corporation earlier this year during a mission to Israel. Also on the mission was Assemblywoman RoAnn Destito, who represents Rome, which is in Oneida County. "We met with the decision makers and made a financial commitment of more than $2 million for the project," said Silver. Under a 20-year lease, the new facility, to be called Empire Air Center, will occupy 355,000 square feet of hangar space at the former Griffiss Air Force base, allowing the company to overhaul commercial jets. "We looked at many facilities all over the United States, and this one met our criteria," Marvin Klemow, an IAI executive in charge of the relocation project, told The Jewish Week. IAI's subsidiary, Commodore Aviation, has been located at Miami International Airport for the past 17 years. "We needed larger hangars to grow and expand, and a more cost-effective facility in order to stay competitive," Klemow said, and the Miami airport could not provide that expansion. He said Pataki offered substantial tax incentives to the company, and noted that the Rome area already has a skilled workforce in place that formerly was employed at the airbase. Klemow said Commodore employees in Miami have been offered the opportunity to relocate to New York, which may also boost local housing demand. Israel Aircraft Industries is owned by the Israeli Defense Ministry, which selects its president and CEO but is not involved in its operations. IAI was established in 1953 by an American immigrant, Al Schwimmer, and is a world leader in commercial and military contracting, with more than $3 billion in design, engineering and manufacturing business last year. The firm is a pioneer in the development of unmanned aircraft and in advanced missile systems, such as the Arrow anti-ballistic defense system. The deal has not been free of political wrangling. When Silver visited Israel in January to discuss the deal, later mentioning it to the media, a spokesman for the state-run Empire State Development Corp. suggested in a published report that Silver's public posture on the negotiations may scuttle the effort, since other states were competing for the project. On Monday, Silver said in a statement that "while some criticized our efforts, we stand here today successfully announcing great news for this community: the creation of 500 solid, good-paying long-term jobs." But the chairman of the ESDC, Charles Gargano, credited only his own agency and Pataki for closing the deal. "The Governor and our team worked 24/7 to win this one," he said in a statement Monday. Calling Commodore a "worldwide aviation powerhouse," Pataki noted in his remarks that Rome was selected over competing bids from concerns in Florida, North Carolina, Arizona and Texas. He said the deal was a "milestone in our efforts to market upstate to the international business community." Commodore expects to hire the 500 new employees by 2007, although work on upgrading the facilities will begin immediately. The facility, renamed the Griffiss Business and Technology Park, also includes 20 acres of ramp area for aircraft parking. The company may also lease an additional 225,000 square feet of hangar space to meet expansion demands under the agreement. Aides to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said she had been a strong proponent of the deal, and had called IAI executives on "more than one occasion" to pitch the Griffiss facility. She also attempted unsuccessfully to secure federal funds to upgrade the hangars to meet the company's demands. "Commodore could have located its subsidiary anywhere in the country," said Clinton in a statement Monday. "Today's announcement represents the potential for hundreds of new jobs for the region and is a testament to the power of perseverance, planning and public-private sector partnerships."

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