Valley eyed for opportunities

December 10, 2001|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

HOLTVILLE — Business and political leaders from San Diego County came to the Imperial Valley to talk about business opportunities in Imperial County, but two words were in the back of most everyone's mind: cargo airport.

San Diego is having a tough time finding room to expand or build a desperately needed new airport. Imperial County has plenty of open space, and local political and business leaders wanted to showcase the Valley's possibilities.

Pat Shea, president of San Diego Air Commerce Center, said he was impressed with the way Valley business leaders share in a variety of successes. Shea headed the failed campaign to convert San Diego's Brown Field into a cargo airport.

Shea was part of a group from San Diego that toured the county Friday morning and met for lunch at the Barbara Worth Golf Resort near Holtville.


The tour showcased Valley business and development such as the Brawley Beef plant, sugar cane to ethanol projects, the Gateway of the America's industrial park project at the Calexico East Port of Entry and Calexico's Meadows Road housing developments.

The tour and luncheon presentations were organized by the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp., the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and Imperial Irrigation District Director Rudy Maldonado.

San Diego is running out of industrial land, IVEDC Executive Director Louis Fuentes said. Rather than San Diego losing a company because there's no room to expand, it can expand here in the Imperial Valley while the company stays in San Diego, he said.

Most of the people on the bus tour were involved in some way with the Brown Field cargo airport effort, Shea said.

San Diego's Lindbergh Field is the smallest major airport in the country. It is on 474 acres in a densely populated area of the city. Its single runway served 15.8 million passengers in 2000, according to San Diego's Port Authority and air service demand in the region is estimated to grow by 3.5 percent annually.

Despite the crunch, both the San Diego County supervisors and San Diego City Council unanimously opposed turning Brown Field into a cargo airport, partly because of pressure from neighboring communities.

"An air cargo facility is the single most important item to bring to a growing economy," Shea said during the luncheon.

Air cargo brings opportunities that otherwise never would come to a community, Shea said. It brings a tremendous number of working-family jobs, the kind of jobs that are long lasting, he said.

If Imperial County wants to pursue air cargo, Shea said he suggests bringing in partners that already work with air cargo companies.

Shea said airports are difficult projects but he thinks the Imperial Valley is far more interested and eager than anything he's seen in San Diego for a while.

John Chalker, who sits on the San Diego chamber's infrastructure committee, said he was extremely impressed with the county's ability to move quickly on business projects.

County Supervisor Gary Wyatt said, "All I heard my whole life was ‘One of these days, things are going to happen.' This is the day."

Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or

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