Last night President Obama, in his jobs speech, said the following: "Building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us an economic superpower. And now we're going to sit back and watch China build newer airports and faster railroads? At a time when millions of unemployed construction workers could build them right here in America? There are private construction companies all across America just waiting to get to work."
I hope Governor Pat Quinn was listening to the President's speech last night because all he has to do is sign off on the land lease to the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission (ALNAC) and construction of the Abraham Lincoln National Airport (ALNA) can begin, private construction companies can go to work (SNC Lavalin and LCOR), 1,000 construction jobs will be created immediately to build the airport, and another 15,000 jobs will come when the airport opens - all jobs created in Illinois. In addition, building the ALNA would eventually mean extending the Metra Electric line from University Park to the front door of the terminal and providing new interchanges on I 57 and I 394 to serve the airport. That would mean more private companies doing work and more jobs for unemployed Illinois construction workers.
The President was being consistent with what he said on August 18, 2004 in a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed when he was running for the U.S. Senate: "There is a strong case for a third regional airport in the south suburbs - a region that has struggled economically while other suburban areas have prospered. Employment and income in the south suburbs lags the rest of the Chicago area. The construction and operation of a new airport near Peotone would bring 1,000 construction jobs in the next two years and 15,000 permanent jobs by the first full year of the airport's operations, as well as billions of dollars in new economic activity, to residents and communities that sorely need it.
"U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., a key leader in the Peotone effort, has assembled a group of private investors who are willing to risk their capital on the new airport's prospects. State government's role in the project would be limited to providing infrastructure improvements, such as roads, transit and sewers, which it routinely provides to other development projects around the state.
"The benefits of a south suburban airport would not be limited to the Chicago region. Many Downstate communities are hampered by their lack of air access to Chicago, since gates for such flights are extremely limited at O'Hare and Midway. An airport near Peotone would provide Downstate communities with enhanced air access to Chicago, as well as accommodating general aviation traffic that formerly utilized Meigs Field. In addition, as the world's first and only airport custom designed, built and priced to attract low-cost carriers, it will attract air service to the Chicago area by startup and discount airlines currently not operating out of Chicago's existing airports" - so concluded U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama.
While China made plans to invest $62 billion to build 97 new airports between 2008 and 2020 - in just twelve years - the last new airport built in the U.S. was the Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport, which opened in 1969, 42 years ago. Denver's new airport has been built since, but it was a replacement airport, replacing the old Stapleton Field. FAA administrator Jane Garvey (1997-2002), during her term said, "We need 10 new airports the size of (pre-expanded) O'Hare to handle future capacity." Airports are the single largest public works jobs generator in the U.S. Airports are a Christmas gift that just keeps on giving throughout the year.
The ALNA, which is a unique public-private partnership (ppp), is a proven model for economic success for the ailing Southland, but little attention has been paid to the significance of the ALNAC model and financial approach - the first self sustaining ppp airport in the nation.
In a true ppp, the State of Illinois and ALNAC act as the public partners which contribute land to the partnership. In exchange for that contribution, the developers - at their own expense and with no recourse to the local municipalities - will build and operate on a daily basis the airport. Profits from the airport operation will reimburse the state for the land or pay a land lease to the state for a specified term.
The public partner also uses a share of profits to purchase land for future expansion and to finance off-site infrastructure projects that bolster development - for example, purchasing additional land for airport expansion, extending the Metra Electric line and providing required local matching funds for new interchanges on I 57 and I 394 to serve the airport.
While the airport would comply with federal and state law, including the Illinois Municipal Code, its day-to-day management and operations would be done by private sector experienced owner-operators.
Another way to think of the airport is to consider what a city does when it has land and wants to attract a Target or Wal-Mart for economic development. The City offers the company incentives - e.g., the land - but the day-to-day operation is managed by Wal-Mart or Target, not the city. ALNAC doesn't need, nor does it advocate, that government officials, many of whom have no experience in operating a business, to be involved in the day-to-day decision-making of a for-profit entity. The old model of politicians involved in contracts, patronage and cronyism is not the ALNAC model.
ALNAC's approach is valid - which explains why private developers have committed $700 million to this project.
President Obama has said that there is $2.5 trillion in private money sitting in corporate pots and that money needs to be invested to put Americans back to work. That's precisely what ALNAC is advocating and the ALNA represents.
Because this is the first self-financing ppp airport, there's no need for a commitment from an airline before construction, unlike the old financial models used at O'Hare and Midway, where an airline commitment was necessary. This ultra modern facility does not require that commitment.
The ALNA project is funded entirely by the private sector and remains Illinois' single largest job generator on the horizon. Airports don't only attract airplanes, they also bring Hyatts, Hiltons, Fairmonts, Holiday Inns, UPS, FedEx, Avis, Hertz, Dollar and more.
All this and 16,000 new jobs for workers in Illinois await Gov. Quinn's pen. He ran for office promising to build the ALNA "as fast as humanly possible." Well all it takes to start this new jobs project is the Governor's signature, and we encourage everyone to urge the Governor to support the ALNAC plan by signing this jobs package.