Sunday, December 24, 2006
Dick Green, executive director of the Pease Development Authority, has found no lack of challenges since he assumed the job in August.
When I talked to Richard "Dick" Green earlier this summer after the announcement of his appointment as executive director of the Pease Development Authority, the then Republican state senator from Rochester told me he wasn't looking for the job. It found him.
"I see it as a real challenge," Green said in June before succeeding George Bald who left to return to Concord as commissioner of the state Department of Resources and Economic Development.
Green, who had also been a teacher and mayor of Rochester from 1980 to 1990, didn't have to wait long for the challenges to appear.
In rapid-fire succession he was thrust into the midst of headline-making stories. First, there was the controversial reappointment of N.H. Port Director Geno Marconi -- which was made by the governor and Executive Council and not the PDA board -- who was accused of making racially insensitive remarks and sabotaging plans for container cargo service at the Market Street port.
Around the same time, Allegiant Airlines, the only airline offering even semi-regular jet service out of Portsmouth International Airport, announced that it was cutting back its flight schedule to the winter season.
"There was a lot happening here," Green said recently when I sat down to talk with him about his first four months on the job. "It got a lot of attention and appeared to be negative." But he said he didn't feel taken aback by the suddenness of the transition.
"These are issues that every kind of manager has to deal with," Green said.
If anything, he was determined to make good lemonade out of the lemon headlines. The Marconi storm has passed for now and Green believes it will lead to better management at the Port, which the state turned over to the PDA in 2003 -- though he said he will ask the Legislature to give the PDA full control of personnel issues at the Port.
As for developing the airport, Green said the Allegiant's schedule cutback reinforced the PDA's need to develop long-term plans for developing the airport into an aviation industry niche player -- doing much more to attract international charter services or becoming an attractive draw for corporate general aviation firms -- while focusing less on the long-shot hope of drawing a major commercial airline.
"Would we like a Southwest to come in here? Of course we would but we have to realize that it's not happening now," Green said about the many reasons why Pease has been overlooked by major carriers. These include location in already saturated market for major and regional airports, transportation access to Boston, the region's passenger service mecca, and the insane economics of the commercial airline industry.
"We need to think regionally and become part of the (air traffic) solution for the region," he said about the recently released New England Regional Airport System Plan, which hailed the airport's many virtues but emphasized its necessity as a niche supporter.
As an alternative, perhaps not the headline-grabbing one but one that certainly reflects the airport's actual strength, Green pointed to the recent ground-breaking ceremony for Alpha Flying of Manchester. The company is building a large hangar and office complex as a prelude to establishing its maintenance and pilot-training facilities for its national fractional jet ownership business.
"The airport side needs investment, no doubt about that," Green said about long-range plans to tear down old buildings in the airport zone to make it more attractive to prospective customers.
He also told me Pease will be embarking on a strategic marketing plan to boost the airport's recognition stature in European tourism industry circles and for high-value general aviation companies.
"I don't want to compete with Manchester," he said about dealing with the reality of being located amid commercial airports in Boston, Manchester and Portland, Maine. "One of the keys to the strategy is to emphasize how to get people to Boston" from Pease.
There has been no shortage of stories, headlines and criticisms over the years about airport development. But Green believes that's one of the problems.
Green set me straight on an airport-related issue that has been, to say the least, not well understood nor reported correctly by folks like me -- namely, the airport's place within the larger context of the tradeport's revenue formula.
"The airport was never meant to be (financially) self-supporting," according to Green, who was state economic development director when transfer negotiations for the former Air Force base were taking place in 1990-91 between the state and the federal government.
"The business park was meant to be the revenue producer to cover all operations, including the airport, which had to stay open." Green sees the airport as a necessary part of the tradeport and one that will eventually develop into a greater revenue source but which may never be economically self-sufficient.
Green came out of retirement to take over an agency with a $5 million budget and around $84 million in assets. Pease International Tradeport is already considered one of the most successful military base transition projects in the country and it has no shortage, he said, of businesses interested in locating at Pease.
Green sees his long-term role as setting the stage for a future that will not see rapid growth on the land side -- he said that as much as 85 percent of available property is being occupied. He sees the need to develop those long-term solutions for the airport and port operations to fulfill obligations "to best serve the public." The PDA also has to modernize its financial accounting and personnel systems and formalize plans for areas such as the golf course, which has turned the corner and become economically self-sufficient. He said the PDA has included a $2 million capital addition for its 2007-2008 fiscal year budget for a long overdue new clubhouse (full disclosure: I'm a member at Pease Golf Course.)
"To make money, you need to invest it," Green said about the golf course.
Green describes himself as "results-orientated" driven and it explains his straight, sometimes less than diplomatic talk when he believes that folks aren't focused on results (he also doesn't hesitate to share a big laugh).
The most famous example of that was his public lambasting of a fellow Republican named Craig Benson, who happened to be governor at the time. Green, who was finance committee chairman and deputy majority leader, was the first but certainly not the last prominent elected Republican to criticize Benson for an imperial governing style "not conducive to the state."
When I asked Green about his views on the future of port operations, he admitted "the Port is a different kettle of fish" given the clash of local and regional needs and opinions.
Green acknowledges there are issues with noise and business choices at the Port, but he also has "very little sympathy with people who just complain" but offer nothing realistic in return.
"It's a working port," he said while adding that all options are open about how best to serve the long-term development of the Port and integrate them with the reality of neighborhood concerns.
Green could be doing something else such as spending 30 days watching baseball spring training in Florida, watching the Red Sox and Twins.
But he said he'd like to leave as positive a mark on Pease's legacy as his four predecessors.
"Every (executive director) brings their own vision to what's needed at the time," Green said.
He believes his time is now.