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Robert Trigaux

JetBlue's HQ: What's a relocation of a name brand from NYC to Orlando worth?



Jetblueplanesaprickmaiman Wake up and good morning. I flew to New York last month, landing at JetBlue's Kennedy Airport's snazzy new $743 million Terminal 5. It's a dramatic upgrade from the old JetBlue facility jammed into the old TWA terminal there. So I was surprised early this month to hear JetBlue was considering relocating its headquarters to Orlando from Queens, N.Y., not far from this eyesore neighborhood near Kennedy.

It could bring about 800 jobs to Orlando, where the company already has a training facility. (Photo: AP's Rick Maiman.)

Is this courtship anything more than JetBlue CEO Dave Barger playing one city off another in hopes of dramatic new incentives -- to stay or go? JetBlue, after all, has built a brand around being New York's hometown airline. Orlando -- Florida, too -- is salivating amid this painful state recession to attract new business, especially a name headquarters. But there are limits. Orlando is not going to build JetBlue's new headquarters for the airline. How far does Florida have to go to snare this sharp business, an airline, frankly, I go out of my way to take when I can because I am big and its planes are roomy?

Last week, Gov. Charlie Crist held a media availability with JetBlue's Barger, again raising the possibility of a relocation. And earlier this week, Florida's U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson got on the phone with Barger with a sweetened offer. As reported in the Orlando Sentinel, Nelson said "my sense is that he [Barger] wants to come to Orlando. Now the question is does it make sense for him financially." One answer came from Sentinel business columnist Beth Kassab:

"The answer to that may end up being a resounding no. It doesn’t appear that local and state officials, who are already stretching their budgets as it is, have the cash to build the company a new headquarters building — which appears to be what Barger wants. That leaves the company to rent vacant office space elsewhere in the Orlando area and it seems like the airline could probably do that in New York for about the same price and without the expense of moving its people here.

"Still, local officials and the governor’s office are pitching JetBlue on some type of compromise — perhaps a plan to build a campus over time near its JetBlue University training center at Orlando International Airport. The details of the package are mostly still under lock and key, though its said to be worth tens of millions of dollars when cash, rebates and in-kind services or goods are included."

JetBlue officials said the final decision could be made as soon as March. But the move would not happen until 2012.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:27am]


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