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VOL. 125 | NO. 92 | Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Cohen Bill Elevates Aerotropolis Concept

By Eric Smith

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U.S. Rep Steve Cohen hopes his colleagues on Capitol Hill will soon become as familiar with the term “aerotropolis” as the constituents he represents in Tennessee’s 9th District.

The Memphis Democrat has introduced legislation that will help this city and others more fully develop their transportation assets under the umbrella of aerotropolis – a concept in which an airport and other modes of moving freight and people help drive an economy.

Cohen and 13 other Congressmen introduced H.R. 5236, or the Aerotropolis Act of 2010, which would serve as an amendment to SAFETEA-LU, the massive transportation legislation from 2005.

The bill, according to its opening line, attempts to “ensure that projects that assist the establishment of aerotropolis transportation systems are eligible for certain grants and for other purposes.”

Cohen told The Daily News that passage of this legislation will help Memphis, already tops in the world in air cargo and a leader in other transportation modes.

“It’s the first time aerotropolis has been introduced in Congress,” Cohen said. “If we can get this established, we’ll be eligible for funding down the line from particular sources that will help us become an even greater intermodal center in the nation.”

Cohen said getting his colleagues to fully understand how the aerotropolis concept works and why it can benefit their districts – as well as the entire nation – will take time, “but this is the first step.”

Aerotropolis is a term coined by John Kasarda, a business professor at the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina.

Kasarda first used the word in the mid-1990s when describing Asian airports that were growing into sprawling airport-cities – self-sustained economies that boasted myriad office, industrial, retail and even residential developments around an airport.

As Kasarda considered how the aerotropolis concept might fit within the American airport model, he noticed Memphis, whose airport ranked No. 1 in the world for cargo and was a passenger hub for a major airline.

He spoke to the Greater Memphis Chamber in 2006 about his aerotropolis concept, and the city’s leaders quickly latched onto Kasarda’s claim that Memphis was the most developed aerotropolis in the country and that it could be used to revitalize the region.

With hopes of touting the city’s airport, as well as its other fully developed modes of transportation, the chamber trademarked the tagline “Memphis: America’s Aerotropolis. Where Runway, Road, Rail and River Merge.”

Dexter Muller, the chamber’s senior vice president for community development and logistics council director, said this legislation further drives home the point that Memphis has been at the forefront of developing the American aerotropolis model.

“The important thing to me is that it recognizes at the federal level that there are certain communities that have a leading edge in transportation assets and Memphis is one of those,” he said.

More than anything, Muller said Cohen’s legislation, written with the aid of local business leaders like Julie Ellis of Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens & Cannada PLLC, keeps Memphis on the minds of national policymakers.

“The federal government sometimes does not look at strategic assets in certain communities and say, ‘We can move the nation forward if we were to invest in these areas,’” Muller said. “It’s hard for them to do it because every city, every state wants to get money. This is a way they are doing it.”

Arnold Perl, chairman of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority and a huge proponent of Memphis’ aerotropolis model, echoed that assessment.

“The introduction of the aerotropolis bill reflects the necessity for collaboration between local and federal government to provide adequate funding to leverage the formidable assets in the greater Memphis area,” he said.

“It is gratifying that Congressman Cohen’s bill was supported by other colleagues that understand that access to the 21st century isn’t just a local issue – it’s a national priority.”

Examples of this city’s role as a national and global shipping nexus can be found everywhere, most recently when a Memphis contingency traveled to Beijing for the Airport Cities Conference and Exhibition.

The local group, which featured Mayor A C Wharton Jr., airport president Larry Cox and others, traveled to China because Memphis will host the 2011 conference, a prominent event for airport executives across the globe.

Another example of Memphis’ place on the world stage comes courtesy of FedEx, whose three-continent hub strategy touts Memphis as its North American hub alongside European and Asian equivalents.

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