Aviation's Impact Seen Across Iowa Economy
August 18, 2009
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    Aviation is a key contributor to Iowa’s economy, supporting more than 47,000 jobs statewide while making an annual economic impact exceeding $5.4 billion, a new report shows.

    The research documents how the air transportation industry has developed economic reach extending far beyond commercial airline passenger service, said Michelle McEnany, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation.

    This includes activities as varied as air package deliveries spurred by Internet sales and aerial spraying for agriculture. It encompasses emergency medical flights on helicopters, corporate and military aviation and other aircraft-related activity, McEnany said.

    McEnany said she doesn’t expect any additional Iowa airports to be built as a result of the study but said the findings will help state and local policymakers better understand the roles of airports in their communities.

    Iowa has 111 publicly owned airports, including eight airports with regularly scheduled commercial flights. There are also 14 privately owned general aviation airports. On-airport activities, businesses and related construction projects support 9,000 jobs with an annual payroll of $346 million, the study said.

    The study, prepared for the Iowa DOT, shows the Des Moines airport is responsible for 5,476 jobs, with an annual economic impact of $522 million. Next in impact is the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids, linked to 2,695 jobs and an impact of $224 million.

    Third is the Sioux Gateway Airport in Sioux City, which hosts the Iowa Air National Guard’s 185th Air Refueling Wing. It generates 1,570 jobs and an economic impact of $218 million, the study found.

    In Newton, the Iowa Speedway’s motor sports facility was intentionally built adjacent to the Newton airport, said Mike Beecher, the track’s director of media relations. He said former NASCAR champion Rusty Wallace, who designed the track, is a jet pilot who was intrigued by the initial plans for the speedway, knowing an airport was already next to the racing site.

    “The airport has become a key mechanism in the development of the Iowa Speedway,” Beecher said.

    Many elite racing teams have traveled to Newton by air. In addition, Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson arrived at the Iowa Speedway earlier this year via a helicopter flight to the Newton airport from the Ankeny airport, avoiding heavy vehicle traffic, Beecher said. Growing numbers of fans fly to the speedway as well, he said.

    One indication of how closely aviation and the economy are tied: the recession’s impact on airports. At the Des Moines airport, air passenger traffic from January to July was down 10.6 percent compared with a year earlier, with 1.03 million people getting on and off planes, records show. Air cargo shipments, measured in pounds handled, were down by 21 percent compared with the same seven months in 2008.

    The efficiency of hundreds of Iowa businesses is improved and their productivity is increased through use of aviation, according to the study, which was conducted by Wilbur Smith Associates in cooperation with McClure Engineering Co. and Snyder & Associates. For example, the report estimates the annual productivity of agriculture is increased by $214 million as a result of aerial applicators that spray about 4 million acres of crop annually.

    Among all private-sector Iowa employers, productivity is increased on an annual basis by $12.8 billion by using air transportation, researchers estimated.

    Military aviation units are stationed at airports in Boone, Davenport, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Sioux City and Waterloo. These units are responsible for almost 1,250 jobs, more than $84 million in annual payroll and almost $279 million in annual economic activity, the report said.

    More than 25 Iowa businesses are involved in aviation or aerospace industries, including such major employers as Rockwell Collins of Cedar Rapids and Alcoa’s Davenport Works. These employers support more than 30,500 jobs with an annual payroll of more than $2 billion.

    Roy Criss, the Des Moines airport’s marketing director, said key players in the state’s aviation industry already know the important role that aviation plays in the state’s economy.

    “These studies are really for the public, which doesn’t really understand the massive impact that the aviation system has in Iowa, and how important it is when you are trying to recruit business and allow business to expand,” Criss said.

    Dubuque Airport Manager Robert Grierson, president of the Iowa Public Airports Association, said he will share the aviation study’s findings with city officials, chamber of commerce leaders and other policymakers. Just looking out the window of his airport office last week, he described seeing two corporate aircraft, a small 1950s-era airplane and a regional passenger jet from American Airlines.

    “This is what it is all about. It is very much an industry,” Grierson said.

    Date: 2009-08-16