By David Alexander
Local business leaders helped bring to light the importance of the airport’s runway extension project Monday night.
At its weekly meeting, the Marshalltown City Council heard from representatives from not only the airport, but also Fisher, JBS and Marshall Economic Development Impact Committee (MEDIC).
Stephen Valbracht, airport manager, said lengthening the runway by 500 feet – to 5,500 feet – will lower the instrument approaches from 367 feet to 250 feet. That lower instrument approach will allow planes to land when they otherwise wouldn’t.
“If it’s wet, if it’s icy, snowy, anything like that, these are planes that can’t even plan on using our airport,” he said.
Federal money funds 90 percent of the federally mandated project. Valbracht said businesses are already paying for this project when they pay tax on their jet fuel.
Most commercial jets are designed to land on a runway of 5,500-feet.
Although a 500-foot extension may not sound like a lot, it’s enormous for an airport the size of Marshalltown’s, Valbracht said. Many towns much smaller than Marshalltown – towns like Newton- accommodate planes landing better, and that negatively influences those looking to do business locally.
“They have to be able to count on getting into your airport when they want to do business in your town,” he said. “When you have a town half our size that is getting this business, it’s disturbing. It’s sad to see.”
Tom Deimerly, president of MEDIC, agreed. He said the airport runway extension is critical to economic development in Marshalltown.
And although tracking the fiscal solvency of such a thing like an airport runway may prove difficult, it should be looked at as a public good like a park or bridge, Valbracht said.
“When we have to tell people they can’t get their jets here, it’s another reason for them to take us off their list,” Deimerly said.
Mike McQuade, human resources director with JBS, said his company regularly takes advantage of the airport’s proximity to the plant. If a client or customer is coming in from Japan and can only stay a few hours, they might reconsider coming to Marshalltown if they have to drive another hour to get here.
JBS would likely just send that customer to another plant, which still benefits the company but doesn’t benefit Marshalltown.
Paul Gregoire, vice president of human resources at Fisher Controls/Emerson, said access is essential for Fisher as well. When big companies regularly visit a town, he said it increases the overall prosperity of that town.
And while companies like JBS can often send customers to other plants, in Fisher’s case, those customers often simply don’t come.
The council also approved the waste water rates with an amendment that the rate change will start on the first billing cycle in January instead of Jan. 1.
Finally, Parks and Recreation presented its volunteers with certificates of recognition.