Recent indications Drew Dilkens, Windsor’s interim mayor, plans to continue the idea of an airport cargo hub sent shockwaves among some of the city’s thinkers. They fretted the improbable was about to happen again.
In fact, to a person, they concluded much of the city’s fall from grace rests on the time its Council has wasted trying to make a silk purse out of the airport’s tarmac.
One of the big visions of failed former mayor Eddie Francis was the creation of a worldly important mega-airport with massive cargo operations. His inability to realize such a vision is probably based on his own severe lack of diplomacy.
This was first observed in April 2005 when he snubbed Federal Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan when she arrived in town during the early Detroit River crossing debate. Francis, undiplomatically, had no time to see her.
Airports are under federal jurisdiction so it was a very sophomoric slight.
Another flaw Francis couldn’t overcome was an apparent inability to close deals. He’d often stage press conferences to announce companies which were locating in the city or at the airport.
They rarely landed. Those that did, didn’t stay.
Despite this, Francis initiated investment deterring property tax increases while claiming to hold the line. It was as if he didn’t understand the negative relationship between high taxes and job creation.
But, his fortunes seemed to change the day he apparently cottoned on to an interesting aspect of politics. It was a rather simple algorithm.
If he could control the results he could achieve success.
While the revelation apparently did well for his self-esteem, it has been extremely costly to taxpayers.
Intuitively, seeming to know he could fool some of the people some of the time, he took to presenting himself as a man of action and travelling the world to pursue jobs. An example of the propaganda surrounding his excursions was a November 24, 2010, report in the Windsor Star about a trip to Gunsan, South Korea.
He was supposedly, “… meeting with specific companies and investors …” and learning, “… how it is trying to position itself as a regional transportation and industrial hub.”
If nothing else, the visit seemed to reinforce his plan to develop Windsor’s airport into a major world entity. The only fly in the ointment was his inability to convince outside companies to invest their money in Windsor.
But, when he tried his new tack, things began to percolate. He became a financier, of sorts, by building, at taxpayer expense, an airport maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) hangar. To understand the failure of this endeavour is to look at the success of AAR, America’s largest MRO.
At the time Francis was contemplating his MRO, AAR was looking for an additional hangar to handle its Air Canada business. It selected Duluth, MN, and immediately hired close to 300 staff. It also had the local community college train its new workers.
It was the same plan Premier Aviation had for Windsor, the $1 per year occupier of the Francis MRO. But, so far Premier has hired few workers and has done nothing with St Clair College.
Francis repeated the process by building a cargo shed for FedEx. It would be moved from the premises of a private sector, property tax-paying landlord. When the construction dust settled, the dream Francis had of a major cargo hub had basically imploded into one small ground parcel operation.
Now, with Dilkens planning to bring back the Francis cargo dream, taxpayers should be worried; very worried.