Singing praise for KC in Paris: A local delegation goes abroad to promote the city as significant to the aviation market.

Jun. 17--They acknowledge that it's an ambitious and expensive venture, with a price that may exceed $100,000.

But a local delegation of government and economic officials think a weeklong trip to Paris will help promote Kansas City as a major player in the international aviation market.

The Kansas City group will be one of more than 200 delegations from about 100 countries participating in the Paris Air Show, considered one of the world's oldest and most prestigious aviation and aerospace trade fairs. The weeklong event begins Monday.

The local delegation includes Kansas City Aviation Director Mark VanLoh, Kansas City Councilman Bill Skaggs and various officials from the state, Platte County and the Kansas City Area Development Council.

Various funding sources, both public and private, will cover the cost of the trip.

Kansas City is responsible for expenses incurred by VanLoh, Skaggs and Gary Bartek, the airport's cargo development manager. Most of the city's share will come from the Aviation Department, which is supported by fees paid by air travelers and other airport users and tenants, not from general tax dollars.

The delegation's mission, which will occur from a large "Paris of the Plains" booth inside the air show's USA Pavilion, is to promote Kansas City International Airport and its surrounding 8,000 acres of vacant property being marketed for development.

It's the first time since 1989 that a Kansas City delegation has attended the Paris event.

VanLoh said the investment in the trip will pay dividends if someone among the 250,000 manufacturers, suppliers and other businesses attending the air show is hooked by what Kansas City has to offer.

"We have been talking about doing this for quite some time," he said. "We want to compete with the big guys."

Tim Cowden, senior vice president for business development at the Kansas City Area Development Council, is part of the delegation.

"We expect that our presence at the Paris Air Show will cause many in the industry to take a good look at all that Kansas City has to offer," Cowden said.

Developing the vacant property around KCI has been a priority of VanLoh, City Manager Wayne Cauthen and other area business leaders.

At the air show, the delegation plans to unveil a master plan for an 800-acre multi-use development on the southeast corner of the KCI airfield. The plan calls for buildings suitable for intermodal cargo carriers, manufacturers and air cargo facilities.

Pete Fullerton, executive director of the Platte County Economic Development Council, is in the delegation.

"You have to get out and see the people who are in the business," Fullerton said. "I would love to be able to market the airport (from my office), but you can't."

Bob Lewellen, a former Kansas City councilman who attended the Paris Air Show in 1989, said the trip did not produce any tangible results. But it made international business leaders aware of Kansas City and its airport.

Lewellen said he was glad to hear a Kansas City delegation is returning to the air show.

"If you think small, then you get small results," he said. "Had Kansas City gone to more of these air shows, I think things would look a lot different around the airport now."

The latest Kansas City delegation is hoping that its flashy "Paris of the Plains" booth will draw visitors. From there, they will play music of local jazz icons, such as Charlie Parker and Count Basie, and display a Kansas City-made Harley-Davidson V-Rod motorcycle. Visitors to the booth will be able to have their photo taken on the motorcycle.

Other American exhibitors include officials from Arizona, Maryland, South Carolina, Virginia, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Fla., Miami, and Pinellas County, Fla.

The air show, which occurs every odd year at Le Bourget Airport, showcases many of the newest military and civilian aircraft to potential customers. It is expected to attract almost 500,000 visitors.

Numerous international manufacturers and military agencies from several countries attend. And major sales contracts often are announced during the event.

Fullerton, whose group is funded by both private and public dollars, said his airfare will cost about $1,700.

"We have marketed to subsections of the aviation industry and attended various air cargo trade shows," he said.

"But last year we decided that we needed to make a presence in the big show, so to speak."

Larry Thrasher, a Northland resident and a frequent City Hall critic, thought the trip to the Paris Air Show would be worthwhile.

"If we can do something to bring more jobs to the Northland, then I am all for it," he said.

VanLoh, whose airfare was $1,600, said the global business environment makes the trip necessary.

"Many of the new cargo customers are coming from China, not the U.S.," he said. "I wouldn't rule out us making a trip to China, Taiwan or Japan in another year or so."

To reach Mike Rice, call 816-234-5903 or send e-mail to mrice@kcstar.com

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