Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Another link in the chain

It's taken a long time to get to this point, but the Gulf Coast will have not just one, but two locations that promote themselves as "federal cities" in the near future. And further down the road, there's a third one that might use that designation.

More than five years after Louisiana and local officials first talked about consolidating military and federal agencies at in Algiers to cushion the blow of a base closing, the Navy Monday leased the Naval Support Activity to a city agency for 75 years. (New Orleans Times Picayune, 09/29/08)

The hope is the 149-acre site will be used by federal and state agencies, as well as companies. Federal city planners envision 15,000 jobs being associated with the Algiers site in later phases.

Right now, John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi is the region's only "federal city," and is certainly proof that the concept works. Operated by NASA, Stennis hosts more than 30 federal and state agencies. Stennis' largest tenant is the Navy, but it also has a number of aerospace and geospatial companies, including Pratt & Whitney, Lockheed Martin and Rolls Royce. Despite that, it retains its primary mission of testing rockets.

The creation of a federal city in Algiers represents another link in a growing chain of large host facilities that have been established in the Gulf Coast region close to Interstate 10. Though developed separately and not part of any master plan, combined they offer an array of opportunities for organizations that want to work in a research/technology/industrial park environment.

The chain is large. Not far from the Algiers project, NASA plans to create around the Michoud Assembly Facility an 800 acre park that will focus to a large extent on advanced manufacturing. Not far away in Slidell the University of New Orleans plans to establish a Slidell version of the UNO Research and Technology Park.

At Stennis Space Center, there are three parks in and around that federal city that may reach fruition. Inside Stennis there's an aerospace park that for quite some time has only had one tenant, Lockheed Martin. Immediately east in Kiln is Stennis International Airpark, and close to that Stennis Technology Park.

Continue eastward and there are other major projects in various stages of development: the new Gulfport, Miss., campus of the University of Southern Mississippi just north of I-10, Bernard Bayou Industrial District south of I-10, Trent Lott Aviation Technology Park in Moss Point, Miss., Brookley Industrial Complex in Mobile, Ala., Whiting Aviation Park in Milton, Fla., and the Emerald Coast Technology Park in Shalimar, just outside Eglin Air Force Base.

It is the Emerald Coast facility that may one day be the third operation in the Gulf Coast to use the term "federal city." Plans call for a wide range of tenants, including federal and state, as well as aerospace companies, working in close proximity in a campus-like atmosphere.

Louisiana, just like Mississippi and Alabama, is trying to turn the loss of a federal facility into something that can create jobs and bring in new players. Mississippi did that with the closing of the Army Ammunition Plant at Stennis, and Alabama did that with the closing of Brookley Air Force Base.

Public discussion about creating the federal city in Algiers began in early 2003 when there was concern the Defense Department would close the Naval Support Activity, which has a mission to serve as landlord for other military commands. It became a reality in May 2005 when the Pentagon and Navy announced plans to close the base.

Louisiana has pledged $150 million to the Algiers project. The property affected by the lease encompasses all of the Algiers base except for a seven-acre parcel owned by the Coast Guard, which is building a $21.5 million facility.

According to New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin: "Completion of the federal city should bring additional military-connected industry and related jobs that will serve as a major catalyst for future development."

He's likely right.

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