By Christine Negroni
WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. – For more than a year, Martin Seifert, president of fiber optics company Nufern, felt like the most beautiful girl at the dance.
After purchasing a small Maryland company in 2010, he started scouting places to expand and found himself wooed by officials from Connecticut, Maryland and Canada.
Ultimately, he decided to add 30,000 square feet to the building he already occupied in Connecticut’s new Bradley Airport Development Zone, where he will receive a five-year, 80 percent tax rebate on the assessed value of the improvements and new machinery installed.
In qualifying for the incentives, Nufern becomes the first of what the Connecticut Airport Authority hopes will be a rush of companies building in an area that has had hard times.
From the boom year of 2005, when 3.7 million people flew from Bradley Airport, passenger traffic fell to 2.8 million in 2011. Two airlines left the airport and many of the remaining carriers cut service.
Creating a plan to develop idle buildings and vacant land in the communities that surround the 2,400-acre airport was a priority for Dannel Malloy, who became governor in 2011.
Bradley Airport could also serve as a blueprint for Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, which is reeling from the August loss of AirTran Airways, its second-biggest carrier and the airline that pressured legacy carriers like Delta and US Air to keep a lid on fares and expand routes.
Bradley Airport is similar to Sarasota-Bradenton in that it is wedged between two cities with larger airports — New York and Boston. Sarasota-Bradenton, by comparison, is wedged between Tampa International and Fort Myers’ burgeoning airport.
As a result, developing land around the terminal at the 1,100-acre Sarasota-Bradenton airport could be a boon to the airport and to the surrounding area.
In some respects, that has already begun. A Holiday Inn Express was developed at the entrance to the airport, and airport chief executive Fredrick “Rick” Piccolo has said he is open to other, similar ventures.
A zone like the one created in Connecticut last year is hardly a new idea. Communities nationwide have begun programs to encourage development around airports, taking a cue from booming airports like Amsterdam’s Schiphol and Washington Dulles, in Virginia.
“Leaders recognize the airport and its built-up areas are primary business assets to compete in the 21st century,” said John D. Kasarda, a co-author of “Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next,” a book about the urbanization of airports.
Economic-development zones also are an idea that have been around for a while.
In Southwest Florida, there are special zones to encourage development in North Sarasota, around the struggling Newtown area, and at 5,000 acres surrounding the Port of Manatee, for instance.
Attracting business with incentives and relying on airports to be development anchors poses risks, too.
Pittsburgh relied too heavily on US Airways, and when it removed its hub in 2004 and reduced service further in 2008, flights dwindled to 150 from 600 a day.
Today, much of the land that was part of Pittsburgh International’s long-term economic plan remains unused.
“There are parallels between Bradley and Pittsburgh,” said Greg Lindsay, who wrote “Aerotropolis” with Kasarda.
Both airport communities, for instance, were onetime commercial linchpins and are now “worried about drifting into obscurity as service is cut back,” Lindsay said.
These days, Bradley is served by seven airlines, though it is campaigning for new flights. The state is considering offering a reduction in landing fees and other fees to airlines willing to bring transcontinental and international service to the airport. Sarasota-Bradenton, by comparison, regularly makes such concessions to airlines to lure them.
“We are targeting specific routes to make it more lucrative for a carrier to offer service at Bradley,” said Kevin A. Dillon, the airport’s executive director. “We’re trying to get business that will generate travel and also generate employment in the area.”