Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Airport and sports games enthrall municipalities

It was hardly a surprise when the news came that Major League Football, the bankrupt entity that has not produced one single down of professional football in several years of operation, has found a new home in Lakewood Ranch.

The rumors that it would settle here made several economic development officials in Manatee County nearly wet in the pants, as sports is a big deal to them and is a good way to spread excess government money in the name of creating jobs that somehow never get created.

The league is promised more than $200,000 if it creates a certain number of jobs that pay a certain salary. Given the track record of its personnel, we can bet that money might never get paid because most of what I read in the excellent articles in the Bradenton Herald and Sarasota Herald-Tribune was basically corporate jawbone. There was a lot of talk about talks about deals with various entities, but all – according to the mouthpiece for the league – are in varying stages.

Quite often, organizations that are financially bereft will try to buffalo the media with this kind of chatter in an effort to conjure up “discussions.” These discussions rarely go anywhere and usually there is a point where the entity closes up shop and leaves town, often leaving rent and salaries unpaid.

The brass talk of “moving in a new direction,” which means finding new municipal suckers to promise them money to relocate their headquarters. And the cycle begins anew.

I will note that the EDC in Manatee County isn’t totally oblivious. As I mentioned in my last post, Sarasota County’s Economic Development Corporation got lit up in the Sanborn Studios disaster because it handed over money upfront. If you at least force a company to do what it promises to do before it gets the government money, well, you’ve accomplished something.

Manatee learned what Palm Beach County learned years ago about funding companies that move to your area: make them wait to see if they’re viable before you start handing out the cash.

Come fly with me
A few months ago, Lakeland was all agog at the possibility of airline service at the airport.

Like many Florida cities, Lakeland has a municipal airport with plenty of private airplanes and businesses, some of them aviation-related, and a terminal but no commercial airline service, though it can handle some pretty big airplanes.

The trouble is that airline service to these mid-size cities is just not a profitable proposition. In addition to the higher cost, there is the lack of direct flights to anyplace like Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles – which you can get at a major airport – and the airline might have the name of a major like Delta or American but the flight might be operated by a hidden subsidiary.

Lakeland was like a lot of cities that fell for Falcon Air’s pitch. As usual, when the initial announcement was made there was a lot of talk about “talks” that still had to take place, and the city of course had to pony up some cash, but even though Falcon Air had a reputation that stank to the high heavens it looked like a done deal.

The trouble is that while these airlines might fly some leased jets of the MD-83 class instead of twin turboprops, they also are using underpaid flight crews and the maintenance might not be up to snuff. Bear in mind, too, that Florida is especially susceptible in the afternoons of summer to some pretty frightening weather, and that can affect arrival times.

Customers often complain when these airlines come to town, and many folks simply factor in the fact that they’ll have to drive to Tampa International or Miami International to get the flights they want.

Falcon Air came with a lot of baggage. One of its planes was repossessed at the Lakeland airport, and there were stories about unpaid wages, sexual harassment and corporate executives with criminal records.

It was hardly a shock to me on a recent night when the news came in that its deal with Lakeland was off. I’ve seen cities like Gainesville and Ocala go to unbelievable lengths to get and keep airline service, so I know it’s not easy.

Often, such service is accompanied by threats that if enough people don’t fly on the route, the service will end. Sometimes, people have found themselves stranded as an airline goes out of business in the middle of their trip. Believe me, it’s happened to Gainesville.

Deals with marginal entities might make a county or city economic development group look like it’s doing big things, but the hit to their reputation is massive when things fail. I wish our elected officials and the EDC officials could see that.

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June 10, 2015 - Posted by | Living in the modern age, The business of sports | , , , , ,

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