December 2, 2011
By Karen Bossick
HAILEY • How important is Friedman Memorial Airport to Blaine County?
Important enough that nearly one of every two jobs is affected by the airport.
That’s the conclusion of a study prepared by Sustain Blaine, Sun Valley’s economic development agency. Sustain Blaine presented its findings to more than a hundred Wood River Valley business owners and government officials Wednesday night at the Valley Club in Hailey.
Sustain Blaine’s Executive Director Harry Griffith said the study was undertaken due to a lack of accurate information regarding the airport’s impact on the county’s economy. This kind of information will be needed, he said, as the community decides what to do with the Hailey airport following the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to suspend work on two sites being considered for a new airport.
Friedman boasts the second-biggest economic impact of Idaho’s seven commercial airports, Griffith said, after Boise. Twin Falls is fourth. Per capita, the Hailey airport has the largest impact on the local economy.
Friedman supplies more than 1,550 jobs and boasts an economic impact of between $143 million and $374 million. That includes direct impact through landing fees and airport employee salaries, and indirect impact from visitors who buy groceries or lift tickets after flying into Friedman.
“And that’s conservative – it could be higher,” Griffith said.
The majority of the county’s 1,700 businesses, which generate $820 million a year, are impacted by air service. That ranges from tourists visiting Sun Valley Resort to Power Engineer employees heading out of Hailey to work at sites around the world, to businesses using air service to import or export products.
“Commercial air service is the engine that drives the Blaine County economy and binds our communities together. It is critical to jobs and businesses and wages,” Griffith said.
The economic impact could be boosted, he added, with more reliability and more competitive pricing. Currently, Friedman loses 38,000 potential passengers to Boise each year, along with 10,000 to Salt Lake City and 14,000 to other Idaho airports. Friedman could also capture new markets with larger aircraft.
Business owners polled in the audience indicated they would benefit most from new markets opened to San Diego and Chicago. More than a quarter of the business owners also said they could hire more employees if air service was improved. A majority said they could increase their bottom lines by at least 11 percent.
Dr. Rich Paris noted that air service can be a matter of life and death when St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center needs to fly patients to Salt Lake City.
“And every time a baby is born or grandpa breaks a hip, four or five people fly into town,” he added.
Steve Kearns said he wondered if the group was asking the right questions, noting that the debate within the community hasn’t been about the airport’s importance but where to put a new one.
But real estate developer George Kirk said the option of alternative sites had been shut down.
“Closing is not an option. To me, the option is: What do we do at the existing site?” he added.
One concern: Sun Valley has lost 35 percent to 40 percent of its seats during the past five years, noted Wally Huffman, director of resort development for Sun Valley Co. “If that trend continues, what impact will that have?”
Source: TWIN FALLS TIMES-NEWS