By Kevin Bowden
January 28, 2011
Jo Ann Speer is a busy woman these days, and her work schedule is about to get a whole lot busier.
Mrs. Speer is the airport manager at Everett-Stewart Regional Airport, located just east of Union City.
Since being named manager of the local airport, she has worked with the airport board to broaden the scope of the facility.
The results of their efforts are obvious.
The local airport is jointly operated by Obion and Weakley counties and each county contributes about $35,000 a year for operating costs. That funding from the two counties has had a significant impact on the airport’s ability to expand and upgrade its facilities in recent years.
Obion and Weakley counties are also working together to help finance several airport projects, including the near $3.9 million runway extension project at the airport.
The two neighboring counties are each contributing $40,000 a year over a three-year period to come up with the local match for a federal grant that is financing the runway extension.
The runway extension project included the acquisition of 67 acres on the south end of the airport for a runway protection zone.
Mrs. Speer said the runway extension project has been a major undertaking, but all the work that has been done on the project will have a major positive impact on the airport and the community.
The runway extension will add 1,500 feet in length to the 5,000-foot-long runway, opening up the runway to larger aircraft and making aircraft landings and takeoffs go much smoother, which will in turn extend the life of the runway.
The runway extension project is being heralded as a major step for the airport.
At 5,000 feet, the current runway can only handle about 21 percent of the business jets operated by the airport’s corporate clients. When the 6,500 foot runway opens, the airport will be able to accommodate about 67 percent of airport’s corporate clients.
Among the corporate clients served by the local airport are Goodyear, Kohler, Tyson Foods, Griffin Industries, MTD, the University of Tennessee and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
The new runway at the airport is being designed for use by the Gulf Stream III, a jet weighing nearly 40 tons.
Once open, the new runway will upgrade the airport from a B-2 facility to a C-2 facility.
Mrs. Speer said the airport board is also looking at applying for a grant to upgrade the ramp, runway and taxiway areas at the airport.
“We’re going to have to strengthen it to accommodate the heavier aircraft,” Mrs. Speer said about the runway.
Mrs. Speer estimates that state and federal grants have paid for more than 90 percent of all the airport’s expansion projects. She said the local airport has secured about $6 million in grants in recent years.
“It’s just unreal what this board has accomplished since 2006,” Mrs. Speer said.
Another significant development affecting the airport will be an access road connecting Airport Road to Highway 22 East. The access road will extend Airport Road across the old Martin Highway (State Route 431) and along Shaffner Road to the Highway 22 East overpass. The new road will provide more visible and practical access to the airport for Obion and Weakley counties.
“I’m very excited about that,” Mrs. Speer said. “There are so many things coming together for the airport and the region and that’s just great.”
Also on the drawing board for the airport are six new corporate hangars and a row of box hangars.
With all the changes taking place, a marketing plan to promote the airport is the next step being considered by the airport board.
The airport board will meet at 5 p.m. Feb. 17 to discuss the development of a marketing campaign.
The board is budgeting $20,000 to develop such a plan, using a $10,000 Special Opportunity County grant that will be matched with $10,000 in local funding.
The money will be going to Airport Business Solutions, a Tampa, Fla., firm that specializes in airport operations.
Company president and CEO Michael Hodges will meet with the airport board at the Feb. 17 meeting to discuss how a marketing plan will help the airport identify prospective business and development opportunities. He is also expected to discuss how the airport can develop and implement a marketing plan.
Airport Business Solutions has an impressive client list, having worked with airports throughout North and South America, Asia and Europe, including the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority and the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority.
“We received a few proposals and we narrowed it down to them,” Mrs. Speer said. “They’re really a pretty impressive company.”
“Our objective is to enhance airport activities and facilitate growth and the attraction of those businesses and developments to the area,” a news release about the upcoming meeting states.
“The marketing plan isn’t just to market the airport, it will be designed to market both local companies and the community. It’s an economic development tool,” Mrs. Speer said.
The Feb. 17 airport board meeting is open to the public.