Business

New airport director plans to cut costs

Dan Mann arrived as Columbia Metropolitan Airport's new director last week, carrying a 60-day timetable to get acquainted before making changes.

The former Cedar Rapids, Iowa, airport boss said his first task in Columbia will be trying to lower expenses so airlines will drop fares and add flights.

"We're talking about airlines that are pulling blankets and pillows to save money," he said. "They're looking at all costs, no matter how small."

That could mean trimming staff.

Mann had 40 employees in Cedar Rapids. Columbia has about 120. And the number of passengers passing through the two airports is not far apart.

"Everything is on the table," Mann said. "Yes, the staffing is high. We'll look for a glide path for correcting it."

Mann also will poke around customer service. He thinks it is pretty good, but from the taxi drivers to parking lot attendants, he wants it be more of a day-to-day routine.

"We're not moving livestock through the facility," he said.

Mann's meeting schedule last week included Richland and Lexington counties' state lawmakers, Honor Flight organizers and former area airport commissioners.

This week, he is heading to Myrtle Beach for the S.C. Aviation Association's annual conference. There, he will meet Federal Aviation Administration officials about runway repairs planned for this summer.

Mann also has a month to prepare for Network USA - what he called a "speed dating" gathering for airport directors who get 25-minute sit-downs with airline route planners.

"They decide your fate," he said.

WHERE-O-VISTA

Don Herriott's hiring to run USC's research campus has brought a mind shift back to its original scope - Innovista is everywhere.

At a news conference marking Herriott's arrival last week, university officials said that while Innovista is based in buildings in the Vista, its reach is regionwide.

Innovista could be in downtown office buildings and in the Northeast - where ever work tied to the campus exists, they said.

This bigger picture approach is reversal of attention paid to failed efforts by private developers to add buildings in the downtown campus.

It also helps efforts to build a reputation like Austin, Texas, as a metropolitan hot spot for university-driven innovation that will lure companies and jobs.

School officials spoke about Innovista like a corporation last week.

"The Innovista is headquartered in Columbia, S.C.," said Hildy Teegen, dean of the USC's Moore School of Business, which will move into Innovista in 2013.

Herriott, the former head of pharmaceutical company Roche's operation in Florence, said he plans to have focus groups with government and community leaders, developers and faculty to learn how to build Innovista's value.

He plans to report back to USC president Harris Pastides within 90 days and work on a new strategic plan that takes into account the down economy.

"This is a marathon, not a sprint," he said.

The survey says ...

Folks in and around commercial real estate in the Columbia area think 2010 will be just kind of all right.

Here's what nearly 120 Columbia-area commercial real estate pros, bankers, lawyers and investors attending the Grubb & Ellis Wilson Kibler real estate symposium last week answered in instant surveys on the economy:

Are you more optimistic about 2010 than 2009? Optimism reigns. The yeses more than doubled the noes.

Will your hire more employees this year? Not really. About two-thirds expected employment to remain the same. Still, more thought jobs would be added - 20 percent - than cut - 15 percent.

When will commercial real estate recover? Not this year. About two-thirds expect a 2011 recovery. Nearly 22 percent think it will be even longer. Just 15 percent saw a recovery happening this year.

Will rents and property values continue to fall? That's a big yes. Nearly 80 percent see them falling, while 16 percent expect no change. Just 5 percent think they will rise.

Are you more likely to make a large purchase in 2010? Not in the cards. About 60 percent said no. Still, a little more than 26 percent said they plan to open their wallets. The rest - like the prospects for this year - were iffy.

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