By Brent Kisling
ENID, Okla. — While airplanes are not the first thing Oklahomans generally think about when we think about our local economy, the truth is that our network of airplanes and airports across this vast state are crucial connectors for area businesses and industries, helping to support area jobs and aiding industries as they expand.
The acquisition of GEFCO, a company based here in Enid, by Astec Industries, based out of Chattanooga, Tenn., is a perfect example.
GEFCO is a local company that manufactures drilling equipment for construction, water well drilling, mining and oil and gas production. They have been a major employer in the area for many decades with more than 150 workers.
Now, with this acquisition, Astec Industries plans to invest millions of dollars in the local facility and double its workforce. Throughout the process, travel on small aircraft, also known as general aviation, through the Enid Woodring Regional Airport was crucial to facilitating this acquisition and the ultimate expansion. This new parent company will use general aviation and the local airport extensively in the years ahead as the company grows and expands its economic footprint.
Of course, GEFCO is not the only company with assets in Enid that utilize the airport regularly. Others include Ward Petroleum, Enivirotech, Aircraft Structures International, Hiland Partners, Johnston Enterprises, Groendyke Transport and AdvancePierre Foods. The Enid airport is a prime example of how general aviation and local airports support, sustain and encourage economic activity for communities.
Across our state, the general aviation industry alone has an economic impact of $1.2 billion and the aviation and aerospace sectors employ more than 144,000 workers in the state. In addition to the vast business opportunities that exist at airports in Oklahoma and across the country, community airports and general aviation also play a vital role in public safety. Law enforcement, firefighters, emergency medical responders, search and rescue teams, nonprofit organizations and natural disaster relief crews all rely on general aviation regularly.
But despite all of the benefits of community airports and general aviation, many people are not aware of their value. In fact, a new proposal out of Washington, D.C., would place a $100-per-flight “user fee” tax on the small businesses, farms, nonprofit organizations and communities across the country that rely on these aircraft. To make matters even worse, this new tax system would create a new bureaucracy within the FAA to collect the taxes. The system that exists now is a fuel tax that is simple to comply with and administer, and is fair and proportionate to use.
Luckily, the importance of these airports and our air transportation system is not lost on our own state and local leaders here in Oklahoma. Gov. Mary Fallin has not only written to the president to ask the administration to recognize the critical importance of small aircraft to our local economy and communities across Oklahoma, but she recently declared August “Aviation and Aerospace Appreciation Month.” These are commendable steps that will help raise awareness about this crucial form of transportation for our state and the national economy.