What does the Big Bear City Airport do for Big Bear Valley? For Big Bear City Airport general manager Pete Gwaltney, the Economic Impact of Big Bear Airport study compiled by Sixel Consulting Group is a step in the right direction to answering that question.
On Aug. 27, Gwaltney, along with Big Bear Airport District board members Gary Steube and Steve Castillo, presented the study to room of about 15 people. The study’s summary identifies the airport as a significant economic engine for Big Bear Valley. The study was conducted at a request by the district’s board of directors.
Sixel used the Impact Analysis for Planning computer program to compile and analyze data acquired through surveys, visitor traffic, spending pattern estimates and data gathered from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, county and Valley resources. The computer program used is the industry standard, according to Katie Jones, Sixel marketing and public relations manager.
“And they used data from the Visitor Center’s Events Resource Office,” Gwaltney said. “This study will help us quantify what we bring to the Valley.”
The study evaluates direct, indirect and induced impacts. Direct impact refers to economic impact generated at the airport. Indirect impact refers to economic activities away from the airport that are driven by airport dollars. Induced impact is income generated by subsequent spending through the multiplier effect.
It is estimated that 1,473 visitors who utilized the airport in 2013 stayed one or more nights in the Valley, generating revenue of $312,907. The overall number of visitors using the airport in 2013 was 1,568, which includes people who did not stay overnight. There were 166 aircraft based at the airport, and 29,326 takeoffs or landings recorded in 2013.
Airport employee Bob Dow provided key statistics for the visitor count, Gwaltney said.
“We told him we wanted him to look out the window on weekends and count the number of people,” Gwaltney said with a smile. “Bob keeps track of every airplane that lands here, and how many people get out of the plane.”
Public and private sector jobs generated by the existence of the airport total about 64 full-time equivalent positions with a labor income of $2.2 million. Included in the labor counts are employees with the airport district, at private businesses located at the airport including Barnstorm Café, Vonesh Aircraft, Wing Waxers, Helicopter Big Bear and Hertz Car Rental. The numbers also include Farsight Studios, a video game production company owned by Jay Obernolte.
While the studio is not on airport property, Gwaltney said, the company is included in this data because without the airport Obernolte would not have moved his business to Big Bear. “We have a direct link to creating those businesses,” Gwaltney said, adding that there may be other businesses in the Valley that set up shop because of the airport’s presence. Obernolte, who is the mayor of the city of Big Bear Lake, attended the presentation but did not speak publicly about the findings.
Not all survey respondents provided detailed statistics on spending data, so Sixel used estimates in some cases when developing commercial and capital spending data. Findings were based on spending patterns for survey respondents who provided data along with data from other economic impact analyses. “Some of it obviously, we can’t spend locally and have to go off the hill,” Gwaltney said.
Attracting new residents and businesses, and visitor spending were factors in determining the economic impact of the airport on the Valley. The study found that $312,907 in visitor spending in the Valley can be linked to the existence of the airport. J
obs and related airport commercial and capital spending create an annual economic output of $8.3 million in the Big Bear Lake area, according to the Sixel study. The study concluded that in addition, the airport plays an important public safety role through aerial scouting and fire fighting, and rapid medical evacuations.
What do the numbers mean? In the past couple of years, the airport has seen growth in its hangar and parking space leases. Gwaltney said the study allows the airport district to measure the importance of potential projects.
Pam Scannell, Big Bear Chamber of Commerce executive director, asked if commercial or charter aircraft service with larger airplanes are in the airport’s future. Gwaltney said the airport is too close to Ontario, Los Angeles and other commercial airports to make it economically beneficial for a commercial service to set up shop in Big Bear.
“There has to be justification for it to exist (at Big Bear Airport),” Gwaltney said.
In the last 10 years, the airport district spent $50 million in grant money to improve its infrastructure. “We will continue to apply for (grants) through the FAA,” Gwaltney said. “As Congress funds them, they will fund us.”
Castillo said the study will be a valuable tool for the district’s ad hoc marketing committee.
To obtain a copy of the Economic Impact of Big Bear Airport, contact the Big Bear Airport District at 909-585-3219. The district also plans to post the document on its website at www.bigbearcityairport.com.