The Wilmington Air Park is in the midst of its fifth year since it was donated by DHL to the Clinton County Port Authority. This is Part 1 of a special series by the Clinton County Port Authority reflecting on the past half-decade as well as future expectations for one of the county’s most valuable piece of real estate.
WILMINGTON — Given top regional employer DHL’s decision in 2008 to leave Wilmington was sudden and unexpected, the deal for the German mail and freight shipper to donate the Wilmington Air Park to the Clinton County Port Authority in spring 2010 was understandably not sealed with a kiss.
But there was a memorable kiss that culminated the 14 months of negotiating that resulted in the air park being deeded over to the Clinton County Port Authority — a critical donation to the current and future economic growth of the region, according to most community leaders past and present.
In what sounds like one of the biggest public relations gaffes of all time, then-Wilmington Mayor David Raizk was at DHL Express headquarters in Germany at their invitation in May of 2008 for an important announcement about its domestic operations at the Wilmington Air Park.
It was the worst place to be for Raizk to hear that DHL was negotiating with UPS to replace DHL’s U.S. aircraft operations in Wilmington — but the best place to be for Raizk to go on the immediate offensive and do what he could to maintain the 8,000-plus jobs at the air park and/or keep one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in his hometown under local control.
Once he let the announcement soak in, Raizk asked for an immediate meeting with DHL chief executive officer John Mullen. They met on the 40th floor of the Deutsche Post Tower, overlooking the Rhine River.
“It was just me and him and I asked him three questions,” Raizk recalls. “First, I said, ‘Do you have your deal with UPS?’ I said, ‘Is there any chance we can reverse your decision?’ and I said, ‘Would you be willing to return the airport to from whence it came?’”
History tells you the DHL deal with UPS never materialized and DHL did decide to leave Wilmington. However, it did donate the air park to “whence it came,” a phrase that Raizk thought strange for him to use at the time, but he remembers well using it.
Stranger still was the bet then-Clinton County Commissioner president Randy Riley made with his good friend, albeit sometime political rival.
“Davey mentioned when he returned from Germany that he had spoken to DHL leadership about giving the air park back to the community and he didn’t rule it out,” Riley remembered. “I told Davey he was nuts. I thought it was a pipe dream. If they give us back this airport, I will kiss your bald head. In June five years ago, I kissed his head and there is a picture somewhere that proves it.”
A half-decade has passed and though both men are in different community leadership roles, they and others closely tied to the air park then and now still believe that taking local ownership of the air park was the right thing to do and are convinced it will become a generator of economic and job growth.
Riley now sits in Raizk’s old mayor’s seat and Raizk is executive director of the Wilmington Community Improvement Corporation, another economic driver in the community and owner of the air park before it was purchased by Airborne Express in 1980.
The Clinton County Port Authority’s original chairman in 2004, Fred Ertel, who was still a board member in 2010, concluded, “This deal was important not only for future control but for the future of our children and grandchildren.”
John Limbert, who was chairman of the CCPA when the donation was concluded, still stands by a statement he made at the time to the news media: “As a result of this philanthropic transaction, the communities that comprise southwest Ohio will be in a better position to manage their own economic growth. Although it will take time to recruit numerous aviation-related industries to this area, we see great potential for this facility to be a hub for new technologies while simultaneously supporting existing aviation business lines.”
Future segments of this series will review the whats — what was done to acquire the park, what the port had to do to secure its future, what has been done the last five years and what the future looks like. If you have questions or suggestions about future articles in this series or about the Clinton County Port Authority and/or the Wilmington Air Park, contact executive director Kevin Carver at 937-655-7019 or [email protected].
The Wilmington Air Park is an integrated aviation and logistics business park located on 1,900 acres in central Ohio. The park features nearly three million square feet of industrial, office and hangar space. For more information, including a history of the air park and to sign up for an e-newsletter, go to http://www.wilmingtonairpark.com. For periodic updates, you can also connect on LinkedIn.
The Clinton County, Ohio Port Authority is a special purpose governmental entity formed by the Clinton County Commissioners in 2004. It can be used to operate transportation infrastructure and lead economic development. The Clinton County Port Authority owns the Wilmington Air Park.