Business still plans to break ground near Kenai airport

Posted: Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Economic growth still is on order for the city of Kenai. An international defense company that announced intentions of developing in Kenai still is scheduled to set up shop, sources close to the plan said.

Last summer, former state Rep. Ken Lancaster announced that European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company had finalized plans to build a new 25,000-square-foot facility near the Kenai airport by this fall. Lancaster said that plan remains in effect, in spite of some doubts expressed by local officials.

"We're looking forward to things moving along," he said. "Probably not as quickly as expected, but we're expecting to have a groundbreaking sometime this summer."

EADS manufactures Airbus jet liners for airline and airfreight companies, among other products. The company anticipates generating as many as 25 jobs to conduct final assembly, testing and maintenance of a helicopter laser guidance system. The system helps low-flying aircraft, like helicopters, avoid earth-bound obstacles and flight hazards.

Bob Favretto, owner of Kenai Chrysler Center and Great Bear Ford in Soldotna, has been the primary contact with the company for more than three years. He said executives from EADS will be in Kenai at the end of the month to finalize lease agreements and other business with the city and to take part in the Kenai River Classic.

"They're trying to kill two birds with one stone," he said.

Kenai Mayor John Williams said the influx of new employment opportunities would be nice in light of recent and impending job losses at Unocal, Agrium and Big Kmart and anticipated losses from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

"Things are a little bit slow right now," he said. "With the cut in the state budget, there will be some state jobs lost and (Kenai) is scheduled to lose another $227,000 from the state budget if the governor continues with his veto plans. That may equate to further cutbacks."

EADS has French owners and German management, and Williams expressed concerns that this fact, combined with the current political climate between the U.S. government and French and German national leaders may quash the deal.

Foremost among his concerns is that EADS-produced weapons were used by Iraq against American soldiers and American allies in the war on Iraq.

"I doubt seriously that the U.S. government is going to allow a foreign weapons company owned by the French and Germans to enter into a contract in the U.S.," Williams said.

Favretto said the mayor's concerns were unfounded and said both state and federal officials have taken substantial interest in completing this deal. He admitted that although international politics may have factored into the time table for the proposed plant, it is something that should be looked beyond for the sake of the community's economic growth.

"I'm sure that there is some political pressure because of that, but it's so far along in being a reality, let's get it behind us and do what's good for Alaska," Favretto said.

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