By Joseph S. Pete
GREENWOOD, Ind. — Businesspeople from Atlanta landed at the Greenwood Municipal Airport recently, went to a meeting and flew home three hours later.
Such trips can result in new contracts or orders for local companies and help boost the economy.
The city-run airport contributes an estimated $27.3 million a year to the economy of Greenwood and surrounding areas, a recent study found. That estimate reflects the airport’s total impact, such as to rental car agencies, which see higher sales because of people flying into the city, and on jobs at local businesses, where employees have to make frequent jet trips.
Greenwood’s airport also helps support 105 jobs in the community and about $5.6 million in salaries, the study found.
The Indiana Department of Transportation, the Aviation Association of Indiana and the Conexus Indiana workforce development agency did the study, which looked at the economic impact of airports across the state, including Greenwood. Aviation board president David Kovach said the findings showed the airport at County Line Road and Emerson Avenue had a significant impact on the local economy.
Greenwood has been working to boost the airport’s economic impact even more. This year, it is spending about $490,000 in local tax money on projects aimed at improving the airport. The city also has $1.1 million in federal funds to lengthen the runway in the hope of attracting more jet traffic.
Mayor Mark Myers has made it a priority to boost business at the airport, such as by lengthening the runway, tearing down an unused water tower that’s in the approach path, and buying and fixing a vacant hangar building. He said the airport’s traffic gives the city an economic boost and exposes Greenwood to important business decision-makers.
The Greenwood airport already had a greater economic impact last year than about half of the 64 airports surveyed in the study. The city-run airport had 10 times the economic impact of the Shelbyville Municipal Airport but came nowhere close to the estimated $650 million economic impact or the 3,800 jobs supported by the Columbus Municipal Airport.
Airports in much smaller communities such as Warsaw, Winchester and LaPorte supported more jobs and contributed more to their economies than the Greenwood airport, but they’re farther from commercial service airports such as the Indianapolis International Airport and don’t face as much competition from the other regional airports in the Indianapolis metro area.
Greenwood has to compete for planes and business with airports in Zionsville, Fishers, Greenfield and on the northwest side of Indianapolis, airport manager Ralph Hill said. The study found that Greenwood had the second-highest economic impact of the smaller general aviation airports in the Indy metro area, after Indianapolis Executive Air in Zionsville.
Residents still might perceive the airport as a sleepy place where recreational pilots pursue a hobby, but it’s in fact a hub of jet traffic, Hill said.
“Those numbers speak for themselves,” he said. “They might be surprising to a lot of people who still think the airport is a facility that’s mainly for personal use when it also has a business purpose. It’s obviously significant to the local economy.”
A board of city appointees oversees the airport and its annual budget of about $831,800. The airport is supported mainly by fuel sales and fees, such as those collected from renting out its 130 hangars.
About 15 people work at the airport and businesses that operate on airport grounds, including a flight instruction school and mechanics, Hill said. But he said the airport in fact supports many more jobs that include the construction workers who build hangars, the truckers who deliver the jet fuel and the mechanics who services the fuel trucks.
“We use a local service facility to take care of trucks, and they work outside the airport,” he said. “Those are jobs that are related to the airport, not directly dependent but partly dependent.”
The study surveyed airport operators, businesses based at the airport and people who use the airport. Businesses that fly in and out of the airport on a regular basis were asked how many local employees they had and what percentage of their sales was the result of the company being able to use the airport.
Researchers also accounted for the indirect effect of how airport employees spend their wages at local stores, restaurants and other locals businesses. They then used that data to calculate the economic impact that takes place off the airport grounds.
For example, the airport helps support jobs at rental car agencies and restaurants, Hill said. Businesspeople who fly in need to rent cars to get to their meetings, and often they or their pilots eat when they’re in town.
Those meetings they have could result in the creation of new jobs that otherwise wouldn’t come to the area, Hill said. They make deals that can result in expansions and added employees in the area, he said.
“You have people directly doing business in the area, such as with land development,” he said. “They’re creating business contracts and purchasing goods.”
For instance, a local factory could get busier and hire more employees if a businessperson flew in on a jet, inspected the facility and decided to put in an order.
“It’s a huge asset,” Hill said. “The impact is much larger than the direct business that comes through the airport. We do our best to contribute to the local economy by being safe, compliant, hospitable, progressive and profitable.”