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High-tech center at Logan Airport may help firms sharpen competitive edge

Two centuries or so ago it was a tide-swept island where captured pirates were dealt justice with a thick rope tossed over a strong branch. Today, Bird Island Flats on the western side of what is now Boston's Logan Airport is well on its way to becoming a center of New England's growing high-technology industry.

And by 1990, a 20-acre Massachusetts Technology Center (MTC) is expected to house offices of up to 50 firms, employing an estimated 2,200 workers.

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Development is proceeding on schedule for the planned $130 million center, project officials say. So far, only the Ogden Corporation has signed a lease to locate its corporate headquarters at the planned center. But development officials say they are close to signing several leases with ''well-known major high-technology manufacturers.''

They say they expect approximately half the available office space to be filled by September, when the first of three construction phases is to be completed.

The technology center is intended in part to help the region's high-tech firms maintain their competitiveness in national and international markets. It is designed to help reduce import duty costs and to offer quick access to air transport and air freight facilities.

''It is a way for the region not to repeat the mistakes of the past,'' says project manager Tony Pangaro, referring to New England's loss of the textile industry to Sun Belt states and its loss of the athletic-shoe industry to South Korea.

According to Charles Baker of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, the new technology center may give local high-tech companies a rationale to continue to expand in Massachusetts by allowing them to reach virtually around the world from an office at Logan Airport. It gives even relatively small firms the ability to service and sell their products quickly and efficiently worldwide. An office at Logan could conceivably eliminate the need to open branch offices overseas.

''It is also an example of how government and the private sector can work together to keep jobs and industry here,'' adds Mr. Pangaro, a partner in Macomber Development Associates, which is building the technology center on state-owned airport property.

According to Richard Sayre, also a partner at Macomber, the first phase of the center will include a three-story building with 180,000 square feet of both office and research and development facilities.

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The project calls for the total construction by the 1990s of up to eight buildings, including two elevated parking lots and a 270-room hotel-conference center.

''The basic concept is that the center offers a series of uses that are an extension of what already goes on at the airport,'' Pangaro says.

In addition to advantages of proximity to the airport - and the resulting ease and speed with which a company can export its goods - the center will offer businesses cash-flow savings through reduced duty costs.

Last September the technology center received a special ''foreign trade zone'' designation from Congress. The designation will permit companies at the technology center to perform repair work on equipment shipped in from overseas without having to pay customs duties on the goods.

It makes it possible, for example, for a Massachusetts firm to service its goods by simply having them shipped to Logan. Once at Logan they can be examined by the firm's own technicians who have immediate access to necessary parts for the repair - all within the company's facilities within the foreign trade zone.

The special designation will also permit high-tech firms to import components duty-free from Asia or Europe, install them in equipment being manufactured at the center, and then ship them back out for sale in international markets.

The prime location of the center is said to be one of its major selling points. Though the rental cost of maintaining an office at the technology center will be higher than in Boston's suburbs, rents will be cheaper than for prime office space in downtown Boston.

Project officials point out that for companies who use the airport frequently , traffic congestion will no longer be a concern in catching flights or meeting shipping deadlines. On the other hand, they note that the technology center will not be isolated from Boston's business center.

The project offers benefits as well to the neighboring community to Logan Airport that have long been beset by the roar of taxiing jetliners. When completed, the eight-building complex will serve as a three-story-tall sound buffer between airport runways and nearby East Boston neighborhoods.

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