Not a lot of breaking news out of this morning's Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce development briefing. The local economy, judging by how much is being built here anyway, is robust, with hundreds of millions of private dollars being invested in retail, residential and office space in the county and its municipalities.
County planning director Craig Benedict and new county economic development director Bradly Broadwell stirred things up a bit at the end. Benedict wrapped up his presentation with a slide showing the silhouette of an airplane. Broadwell quickly followed up with enthusiastic comments about how the new county airport could be an economic engine.
But wait, reporters asked afterward, isn't it a university airport, and more specifically isn't it an airport that so far at least has been talked about primarily in terms of serving the Area Health Education Centers, the program that flies medical professionals to under-served parts of the state.
"It can't be all about the health care system," Broadwell said. "It has to be multifaceted."
Broadwell said he didn't want to get too far ahead of the county commissioners. In talking about the airport they mostly have criticized the lack of local input. Chairman Barry Jacobs, for example, had sought a delay in the bill setting up an airport authority in order to have more communication with UNC. The county, as are many private citizens, worries about the future authority's ability to take private land for the airport by eminent domain.
Broadwell said he spoke with university leaders on the recent inter-city visit to Ann Arbor and they at least seemed emenable to working with the county to explore a new airport's economic development potential.
Broadwell refreshingly speaks off the cuff, But he may have sensed he was ahead of the public debate. "I'm not advocating for an airport," he added. "I'm looking at what assets are out there. What are the opportunities?"