If Mercer County is to grow and attract new manufacturing and retail business, it will need a strong and robust general aviation airport. After years of wobbly oversight that ultimately led to the loss of commercial air service in late 2007, it is good to finally see an aggressive airport authority board that is fighting for grant funding and other resources to complete long-overdue upgrades to this vital facility.
And they are making progress. For example, it was announced just last week that the Hugh I. Shott Jr. Foundation is awarding a $110,000 grant to undertake critical restroom and lobby renovations to the airport, as well as the promise of a conditional matching grant of $400,000 to cover half of the expense for a modern eight-unit T-Hangar. The latter award does require the local authority to raise an additional $400,000.
Upgrading the restroom and lobby areas of the airport is of particular importance, as these are among the first areas of the airport that visitors, corporate traffic and even politicians see when flying into our facility. It goes without saying that we need to make a positive first impression, especially if we want those corporate chief executive officers to relocate and expand their business offerings into our region. And having a modern T-Hanger at the airport will help to better accommodate the all-important corporate traffic that is necessary for a strong general aviation airport.
Airport authority board member Charlie Cole has been working to find funding to redo the bathrooms and replace the existing furnishings in the lobby of the airport since he was appointed to the board last year. “Those two areas are so important to our airport because they are the first thing general aviation passengers and pilots see when they land at our airport,” Cole correctly notes. He adds the new T-hangers are popular now among general aviation pilots, and this is another way to bring additional traffic to the airport.
Other problems at the airport also have already been corrected, including the lack of a working snow plow to keep the airport runway clear of snow and ice during periods of inclement weather. Just two years ago the airport had to close during several snowstorms due to the lack of a working snowplow truck. And every time the facility was closed, vital air traffic and revenue was lost.
Other assets also are being explored by the newly focused authority board. For example, the 2009 Special Aircraft Property Valuation Act provides a more attractive tax credit for businesses utilizing Mountain State-based airports. It’s an obvious asset that hasn’t been adequately promoted — at least until now. This tax credit puts Mercer County in a unique position of attracting regional two-state traffic due to the airport’s close proximity to the state line.
The recent progress at the airport is welcomed. In order to attract urgently needed new manufacturing jobs, along with retail and commercial growth, we must have a first-class general aviation facility that corporate executives and others will utilize as needed. This includes adequate hanger storage space, a modern lobby, a modern restroom and pilots lounge, and competitive fuel sales for corporate traffic to utilize.
If we don’t have an adequate facility, corporate traffic will bypass Mercer County to another facility that meets their needs. That is why it is absolutely critical that these and other updates be made to the airport as soon as funds become available.
Cole and the authority board members are to be applauded for taking these long-overdue steps to enhance our airport. It is critical for the board members to continue this fight, and to do everything in their power to help make our local facility a top-notch general aviation airport.