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Years of effort yield payoff with non-stop Paris flight

September 9, 2017

When Salesforce.com last year launched a major Indianapolis expansion that included adding 800 jobs and putting its name atop the state’s tallest building, it was a milestone for the region. The fact that one of the world’s premier tech companies would put its second-largest outpost here fortified our stature as a world-class city.

The Sept. 6 announcement that Delta Air Lines is creating the state’s first-ever nonstop transatlantic air service—flights to and from Paris that will begin next May—is another feather in our cap.

This isn’t just about ego. It’s about positioning central Indiana to be one of the winners as business becomes increasingly global. True, this is just one route, but suddenly busy executives from our region will be able to reach vast swaths of the world with greater ease and speed. Those flying into Charles de Gaulle Airport will be able to connect to flights to more than 100 destinations in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and India, including 23 of the top 25 transatlantic markets.

Landing the route is a testament to the power of collaboration. For starters, credit goes to Indianapolis International Airport officials, who have spent years painstakingly negotiating with airlines in a quest to bulk up the city’s roster of direct flights.

Working alongside airport officials was the business community, primarily through the Indy Chamber, and leaders of the Indiana Economic Development Corp., who early on grasped the high economic stakes.

With the addition of the Paris route, the airport has added 37 nonstop flights since 2014. Each small success has begat a larger one—with perhaps the first big breakthrough coming when United Airlines established nonstop service between Indianapolis and San Francisco in 2014.

The IEDC helped make that happen by providing an annual backstop of up to $1.5 million to cover any gap between actual flight revenue and a guaranteed minimum. It proved to be a wise bet by the state. United added a second San Francisco flight last month, and Alaska Airlines is launching its own nonstop daily flight to the city on Sept. 26. All the flights now are supported entirely by market demand.

Not to be overlooked in snagging the Paris route is the key role of Gov. Eric Holcomb, who, despite being on the job less than a year, has made major strides in positioning the state for greater prosperity. In his first legislative session, he established the Next Level Fund, which attempts to combat the state’s venture capital shortage by steering up to $250 million over the next decade into Hoosier startups, and helped champion a $15 million appropriation to the IEDC for business promotion and innovation.

The incentives for the Delta deal—up to $5.5 million over two years—are coming out of that pot of money. That’s a significant sum, to be sure. But if the new route has the economic development payoff officials think it will, it will prove to be a pittance.•

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