It has been more than five years since five Atlantic City casino hotels closed and left more than 10,000 people unemployed or underemployed. Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson and the board of freeholders responded by creating the Atlantic County Economic Alliance, which serves as the lead economic development agency for the county.
ACEA is working hard to develop new industries, attract new businesses and create sustainable jobs. One of the highlights of 2019 was the ribbon-cutting for the 66,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art first building at the National Aviation Research and Technology Park. Nine tenants occupy space in the building and will employ as many as 300 professionals. Interest in the park continues to grow, with ongoing planning and financing discussions for buildings two and three.
In 2019, the ACEA was awarded a $1.7 million i6 Challenge grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to create the Smart Airport and Aviation Partnership. More than 180 organizations applied for grant funds, but the ACEA was one of only 23 successful applicants nationwide, which also included Johns Hopkins University, Cornell University and the Mayo Clinic. As part of this grant, the ACEA is partnering with Cape May County to promote development of technology related to the “Airport of the Future.”
Industry has taken notice. Boeing has shown interest in Atlantic City International Airport (“ACY”) for unmanned cargo aircraft testing. Other companies are interested in our facilities for drone/anti-drone research, which could present a new frontier in aviation research.
The ACEA currently is working to attract Elevate Jet, a charter airline and aviation maintenance company, to ACY. If successful, this project could bring 180 new, high-paying jobs to the region withing the next several years.
To help strengthen our workforce, the ACEA is partnering with the Atlantic County executive superintendent of schools and high school superintendents to implement an aviation science, technology, engineering, and math program in our schools. The Atlantic County Institute of Technology was the first to offer the program, developed by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the world’s leading aviation research university, based in Daytona, Florida. Three additional high schools in Atlantic County are expected to offer aviation STEM classes this fall. Successful student participants can earn a full semester of college credits and industry certifications prior to their high school graduation.
In 2020, the ACEA will seek a $4 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to construct an aviation maintenance and technical academy at ACY. Plans call for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to operate the academy in conjunction with Atlantic Cape Community College.
The ACEA is encouraging the growth of other industries, as well. We continue to support Ørsted’s plans for a 1,100 megawatt wind farm off Atlantic City’s coastline. We also are working with EDF Renewables and Shell New Energies to locate a joint office in Atlantic City.
The ACEA is working with Atlantic City to transform the city into a 21st century gaming destination through esports. In 2019, Atlantic City hosted three big esports events: the Collegiate Star League Grand Finals; the ESports Travel Summit; and the Halo Classic. These efforts have yielded further business development with the establishment a data center by Continent 8 to support esports.
To help us identify businesses in need of assistance, we will be reaching out to local officials around Atlantic County in 2020 to be additional eyes and ears on the business community. We want to ensure the ACEA is doing everything possible to retain local businesses and help them realize their growth potential.
This past year was one of great accomplishment for the Atlantic County Economic Alliance. The ACEA has established itself as a highly capable organization among local, regional and national government, industry and academic leaders. We have every reason to believe 2020 will bring continued success and prosperity. We look forward to working with the residents and business of Atlantic County as we move into 2020 and a new decade of economic transformation.
Lauren H. Moore Jr. is executive director of the Atlantic County Economic Alliance.