John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport is readying to signal businesses to move into its 100-acre parcel as local governmental agencies set the table with tax incentives.

On Monday, the Richland Township supervisors unanimously became the second of three local taxing agencies that must agree for the airport parcel to qualify for the state’s Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zone program. Businesses that move into a KOEZ get state and local taxes waived for 10 years.

Richland School District has already given approval, and the Cambria County commissioners are expected to follow, supervisors said.

The state program opened about two years ago to Cambria County through collaboration among local legislators Jim Rigby, R-Ferndale, Frank Burns, D-East Taylor Township and Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Richland.

"Our job is to create an environment to make the area attractive to businesses," Rigby said.

Burns said the airport would be an ideal place for a KOEZ.

"Employers need acreage and they need to be close to an airport," he said. "It's not in my district, but I want it to succeed. The tax incentive would make the airport attractive to any company that needs to ship goods."

Burns said the presence of the airport's fixed base operator, Nulton Aviation, founded by Larry Nulton, would also make the site attractive to employers. 

Nulton has advocated for the supervisors to apply for the Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zone program.

“This is to entice businesses to come for economic development in Cambria County,” Nulton said. “Once we have this opportunity we can market it that way.”

Richland Board of Supervisors Chairman Robert Heffelfinger Jr. said no matter what type of business may decide to move in near the airport, the supervisors’ main concern is jobs.

“We’d like people to come to Richland and have good-paying jobs,” he said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development must approve the KOEZ application for the airport. Heffelfinger said the state's determination would come by the end of the year.

As of 2017, across the state, the program’s applicants have created 7,278 jobs and invested $2.6 billion in private capital into those zones, the Department's website shows.

The local legislators who secured Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zone availability for the county said more than 370 acres can be granted the tax incentive.

There are no zones yet established, but those in the application process include the airport parcel as well as parcels in Johnstown and Jackson Township, Burns said.

If the state approves applications for those areas, then there would be 69 more acres available for the program, he said.

The group of Cambria legislators also tailored the program to make it more beneficial for the area, Rigby said.

"We got the language changed so that 10 acres is not the minimum acreage for a parcel to qualify now," Rigby said. "It could even be used for a storefront in downtown Johnstown. Once you revitalize downtown, others will benefit."

Gov. Tom Wolf signed off on Cambria County's KOEZ program, though Burns said the governor generally dislikes the program because it results in lost state tax revenue.

"He's not a fan of the program, but without it Pennsylvania is competing with other states that are offering major tax incentives," he said.

In addition to changing the minimum acreage for a KOEZ, the legislators also added a stipulation that holds the state to investing in areas that apply, Burns said. Cambria's program requires the state to provide an alternative type of investment of equal economic value if it declines a KOEZ application.

"This puts us in the game," Burns said.

Russ O'Reilly is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @RussellOReilly.

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