Williams Gateway Airport entered a new era Tuesday by opening a U.S. Customs office to monitor international cargo and passenger flights.
Officials, including mayors from Gilbert and Mesa, said the new office is necessary to help attract cargo companies willing to relocate from overcrowded West Coast airports.
However, once the ribbon was cut, there was little for U.S. Customs inspector Jim Brady to do.
"We have two companies that want to bring freight in shortly. Hopefully it will start picking up," said Brady, who didn’t expect to do any inspections Tuesday.
It’s possible that a local electronics company will fly in foreign goods within two weeks, he said.
"I won’t guarantee it," said Brady, who will be the only inspector at Williams. "It will be a one-time deal."
Regardless of how much international cargo shows up, Brady will man a new office at Gate 31 in Building 71. While Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport handles most the Valley’s air cargo, Williams aims to attract new air cargo airlines to Arizona.
"We really are on the threshold for something special in the East Valley," said Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman, adding the airport could someday generate more jobs than Scottsdale Airpark.
Williams will use its Foreign Trade Zone designation, which allows the airport to bring in merchandise from foreign companies, to help drum up business.
Economic development officials show estimates indicating more than one million commuters live within a 30-minute drive to the airport, a number that is supposed to increase by about 145,000 by 2005. The aggregate income within five miles is $1.2 billion.
Marie Frank, spokeswoman for the airport said the customs office will be helpful in marketing efforts. She said there is no timeline for securing international cargo contracts.
"We do have some programs in the works," she said. "We’ve been marketing internationally forever."
Recruiting trips to land companies have taken airport officials to the Paris Air Show, the largest in the world, and to an International Air Cargo Association meeting in Hong Kong.
"We’re starting to get some recognition in some of the international cargo magazines," Frank said.
The airport features three 10,000-foot runways and 13,000 acres of land for aerospace and other companies, officials said. It is in the proce ss of building a $10.9 million taxiway and cargo ramp for wide bodied aircraft. The project will be completed by early summer.
"We do have a local developer who has submitted a letter of interest in building our first cargo building," Frank said.
Sky Harbor officials who attended the ceremony said they are not opposed to the plans at Williams.
"We’re working hard with these folks out here," said Carol Clements, deputy aviation director for community relations, adding there is enough cargo business to go around. "Sky Harbor is landlocked."
The airport authority contributed $130,000 to help fund U.S. Custom’s office, office space and staff. Brady will operate in cooperation with Immigration and Naturalization Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture. A user fee paid by cargo carriers is expected to be pay for the office in two years.
On Sunday, Williams will celebrate its first passenger service when 130-passengers on an Allegiant Air charter flight go to Harrah’s casino in Laughlin, Nev. The flight sold out in little more than a week, and a second planned for March 31 sold out in less than a week, Frank said.