Steve Wartenberg Columbus Dispatch
Airports Feeding Region's Economy
November 28, 2012
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  • By Steve Wartenberg

    The economic impact of central Ohio’s three airports has jumped since the middle of the past decade, according to a study released yesterday.

    A big increase in visitor spending, the opening of an intermodal facility at Rickenbacker Airport and the effects of inflation were given as reasons for the increase in impact.

    The area’s three airports — Port Columbus, Rickenbacker and Bolton Field — and surrounding businesses supported about 54,000 jobs and pumped $6.6 billion into the area’s economy in 2011, according to the study, released by the Columbus Regional Airport Authority.The employment number at the three airports was up

    28 percent from 1994, when the last study was done, while economic impact jumped 69 percent.

    “This study details what we have always known. … (The airports) are vital components of our region’s economic engine,” Franklin County Commissioner Paula Brooks said in a statement.

    According to the study, the three airports combine to support about 38,000 jobs, while 16,000 more are attributed to the intermodal terminal, foreign trade zone and logistics park at Rickenbacker. An intermodal terminal is a transportation hub that allows for shipping containers to be switched from various forms of transportation.

    The intermodal terminal, which opened in 2008, added 409 full-time jobs and

    $50 million in economic impact, said David Whitaker, the authority’s vice president of business development. Spending per visitor rose to $674, up from $450 in the previous report.

    NetJets also has increased its economic impact by about $185 million annually since 2004, Whitaker said.

    “What this means is, we continue to be a significant economic driver for the region,” he said. “ We’re proud of that and want to continue to enhance the impact of the airport with additional air services that lead to economic growth.”Port Columbus accounts for the majority of the airport jobs, about 33,500, according to the study. The airport is also responsible for $3.7 bil- lion annually in economic impact. Included in the Port Columbus numbers are nearby businesses such as NetJets and Lane Aviation.

    The number of passengers at Port Columbus has not grown significantly since 2004’s 6.2 million. The total stood at 6.4 million in 2011, Whitaker said.The authority is working aggressively to add flights to cities such as San Francisco, San Diego and Seattle, which are not served with nonstop flights, and to add direct flights overseas, he said.

    The study was conducted by CDM Smith and followed guidelines established by the Federal Aviation Administration.“There’s often skepticism by the public about the validity of economic-impact studies,” said Bill LaFayette, owner of Regionomics, a local economic-consulting firm. “Why are they taking credit for the jobs created at the hotels by the airport? It seems unreasonable, until people realize those jobs wouldn’t exist if people didn’t have convenient air connections to come into Columbus.”