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Louisiana airpark expert to visit Roswell

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A former military air base in Louisiana went from being decommissioned by the U.S. Defense Department to an industrial center, retail district and residential community and airport that supports 7,000 jobs in the region — in less than a decade.

Jon Grafton (Submitted Photo)

How England Airpark in Alexandria, Louisiana, formerly England Air Force Base, made the transition and what lessons could be gleaned for the continued development of the Roswell International Air Center will be discussed when the former executive director of the England Economic and Industrial Development District, Jon Grafton, comes to Roswell next week.

“Each community is special and unique. One solution does not fit all situations,” Grafton said. “Sharing experiences, success and failure is crucial for progress.”

Grafton retired from what is often referred to as the England Authority in May after 24 years as head of the 3,260-acre park that was governed by a 10-person volunteer board with members from local government entities and private businesses. Prior to that position, he served for 13 years as city clerk for the City of Alexandria.

He and his wife, Kenne Grafton, a retired public school teacher, are now spending their time traveling, but he agreed to address the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. at its June 27 annual meeting, which is open to members. He also will talk to the public at a 9 a.m. event at the Roswell Chamber of Commerce, 131 W. Second Street.

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Although the England Airpark has its critics, some of whom have said it has operated without appropriate accountability to the public and has not yet achieved its full potential, it also has been recognized by some as a model for air base redevelopment, including by former President Bill Clinton, who extolled its success four years after it closed as a military base. The airpark also was written up in the Wall Street Journal, has generated $1.8 billion in household income in an eight-parish region, and has received more than nine state and national awards.