DETROIT-John Kasarda, director of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina, says the near the two local airports must be plotted out in advance to “maximize overall economic impact and land-use returns.” He was hired by the county’s Department of Jobs and Economic Development Administration to design an “aerotropolis” near the Detroit Metropolitan and Willow Run airports, where 25,000 acres await development.

Tom Fegan of the county says the two airports are about eight miles apart and have parallel runways. Detroit Metro is one of the nation’s hub airports, with a $2-billion Northwest Airlines terminal finished early thisyear. Willow Run is more geared to service businesses.

“The area has a great potential for development to take place,” Fegan tells

In a 35-page report, Kasarda says land around airports has become anincreasingly popular area to build on, with the immense growth of just-in-time delivery of products, high-tech and laboratory manufacturing and even major residential, retail and entertainment locations. However, like many metropolitan airport areas around the globe, the Detroit area has not taken advantage of the airport draw.

Property development in the city of Romulus and various townships that surround the airport has been haphazard, Kasarda says, and not enough thought has gone into joining the various parcels together into a major draw.

“Whereas the state of Michigan, in general, and Wayne County in particular, have exhibited considerable success in attracting firms during the past decade, the job creation and economic potential of Detroit Metro has yet to be harnessed,” Kasarda says.

He adds most development professionals agree that what is needed as a new economy job generator are high-quality commercial, office, logistics and technology parks that area carefully planned and aesthetically designed in the vicinity of the airport.

“To date, the vast majority of airport-linked business development has been uncoordinated, dispersed or strip-style which is lacking in aestheticappeal, business amenities and overall job quality,” Kasarda says.

Future development could begin with the Pinnacle Aeropark project. This mixed-use business development encompasses just less than 1,300 acres adjacent to the south end of Detroit Metro, with project interchange access to both I-275 and I-94. Also, the Regional Road Plan will be considered. The plan is a joint effort to coordinate development between all airport-involved communities.

To think more for the future, airport officials, local governments andprivate businesses must form a close authority board to create, and follow through, on an aerotropolis plan, Kasarda says.

“The stakes are high for the county and the state, while time is short,”Kasarda adds.

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