By Christin Nance Lazerus
A new study estimates that airports in Lake and Porter counties generate a combined $144.5 million economic impact on local communities annually.
Statewide, the 69 airports support 69,149 jobs, with a payroll of $4.1 billion and total economic output of $14.1 billion. The study, released Tuesday by Conexus Indiana and the Aviation Association of Indiana, used new methodology to capture the economic effects of on-airport businesses, airport users and multiplier impacts, such as an airport employee spending money in the local community.
The airports in Lake and Porter counties fall under the General Aviation Airport category, which typically don’t receive regular passenger service. In Northwest Indiana, Gary leads the way with $72.5 million worth of economic output, supporting 420.4 jobs and $22.8 million in payroll. Its numbers would have been higher if its users had returned surveys used to compile the study.
Aviation Association of Indiana Executive Director Bart Giesler said some users were a little wary and unfamiliar with how the surveys would be used.
“Instead of us trying to make up numbers — if they didn’t return the surveys — we would rather underreport and be conservative,” Giesler said.
The study will likely be conducted every five years.
Griffith/Merrillville Airport general manager Craig Anderson said the report will help it demonstrate its value to local and state officials. The airport helped support 220.6 jobs, with a payroll of $10.6 million and overall output of $54.8 million.
“A lot of people in normal community don’t realize the actual impact an airport has on their community,” Anderson said. “They’re just thought of as playgrounds for rich people. But they’re really not. They are useful tools that bring high value to the communities served by those airports.”
Porter County Regional Airport Director Kyle Kuebler said the return on public investment in the airport is promising.
“When I look at it, I’m basing (the output) against what taxpayers put into it,” Kuebler said. “$17.2 million is 13 times our operating budget and 35 times our tax levy, so I think that’s pretty good. This lets airports see where they stand.”
The numbers may be on the upswing as Porter County looks to ways to develop the property around the airport and completes a 20-year master plan at the end of this year.
The state’s airports also wanted to angle themselves for funding as the state enters a budget year. The Federal Aviation Administration lowered the percentage of federal money — from 95 percent to 90 percent — required for infrastructure projects, so state and local governments will need to pick up more of the slack. In 2011, about $70 million of federal, state, and local money was spent to maintain airport infrastructure around the state, thus supporting hundreds of jobs in the construction industry.
“We hope they’ll continue to support airports on a 50-50 basis (for the remaining 10 percent),” Giesler said. “People base decisions on their return on investment. We point out that jobs part of that, and by investing in the airport, they’re doing more than just pouring asphalt and concrete. It’s no different investing in roads and sewers or broadband.”