AVON PARK — It certainly doesn’t have the economic impact or notoriety of the Tampa or Orlando international airports, but it does help the economy take off in Highlands County, particularly Avon Park.
A survey to gauge the economic impact by airport hangar tenants and businesses bordering the Avon Park Executive Airport was distributed in April by the Advisory Board for the Avon Park Executive Airport Community Redevelopment Agency. The goal of the survey was to have fiscal evidence of the airport’s financial relevancy when its board is seeking funding from the City of Avon Park and Highlands County. It concluded there is a total annual payroll in the area of almost $15 million.
It’s the first time since the airport, which is city-owned, opened 80 years ago a survey of this type has been undertaken, Pat Danzey, an Advisory Board member and Avon Park chiropractor, said.
“We wanted to get accurate information to present when we ask for funding. It’s the airport’s eightieth year and it’s a good time to make people aware of the value of having the airport here,” Danzey, a licensed pilot for 25 years, said. “There are some (businesses) that didn’t respond, but at least this gives us some concrete figures for the airport’s economic impact in the county.”
Danzey said there are 53 hangars rented and the survey was sent by mail to the tenants at the airport, located at 1545 State Road 64. He said 12 responded they owned a local business, employing a total of 573 people with a total combined annual payroll of $14,784,240. He said citrus grower Ben Hill Griffin Inc. leases a hangar with many employees, but didn’t respond to the survey.
Money from the combined payrolls goes to employees, which in turn is used
for personal and family needs.
“That money gets spent, which strengthens and helps support our local economy,” he said. “I have been personally asked, ‘Why do we need an airport in Avon Park?’ This shows why.”
John Barben, chairman of the Avon Park Executive Airport CRA and licensed pilot, said the survey was needed to show the airport’s economic importance. He said the facility is a “gateway to attracting business to the area.”
“That’s the whole reason for being involved with the airport. It’s not because I’m a pilot; it’s for economic development,” he said.
In the survey, the Advisory Board asked four questions: the hangar number, the number of local employees, estimated annual local payroll and aircraft used for charitable organizations. A space for comments was also offered. The survey’s introduction stated, “We believe it is imperative that city officials, county officials and the general public be made aware of the airport’s positive economic impact on our community. Please help us to document the airport’s value.”
That value is looking to be increased through improvements partly generated by airport tenants. Changes to help bring structural and economic growth to the Avon Park Executive Airport over the next five to 10 years are underway.
For instance, the City of Avon Park has entered into an agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation to demolish and reconstruct T-hangars for airplanes and build a new taxiway. As part of the $762,500 project, current hangar tenants would be relocated to the new ones. The existing hangars have to be relocated in order to build a taxiway for safer access to the runway, and the replacement is necessary in order to continue collecting revenue from T-hangar leases.
One tenant, Kevin Kasley, who opened K-Kasley Aircraft Services at the airport in 2003, agreed the survey was needed and hoped it could be used to garner more financial support from Avon Park and Highlands County. He said he also knows area residents who think keeping an airport open in Avon Park isn’t practical, but the survey showed differently.
“The airport is the doorway to the city. It’s just like U.S. 27, but in the air,” said Kasley, who employees five part-time and two full-time mechanics. “I think generally, the opinion of the airport is pretty low but this shows what impact the airport has on the city and county. There are a lot of us that depend on it for [our] livelihoods.”
Danzey said even though Avon Park Executive Airport doesn’t have many businesses on the field, they still attract business executives who employ people locally with a “more hidden impact.”