YPSILANTI TWP – A new study has determined Willow Run Airport generates just above $123 million a year in total economic impact throughout Michigan and also provides more than 950 jobs.
The 2014 study, released Tuesday, March 31, was conducted by the University of Michigan-Dearborn and the Wayne County Airport Authority (WCAA).
Another factor of the report showed how Willow Run supports the Detroit Metropolitan Airport and the $10.2 billion economic impact it’s reported to have.
Lee Redding, UM-Dearborn associate professor of business economics, said when researching the airports economic impacts they worked to identify all the economic activities associated with the airport. In the case of Willow Run, he said the activities are primarily cargo flights as well as general aviation.
Willow Run ships about 54.4 million pounds of cargo annually, which is estimated to likely represent more than $2 billion worth of goods, according to the report. The shipping itself creates an economic impact of $44 million.
Some other economic impacts from the airport include $18.7 million from general aviation, $3.1 million from education, and $2.1 million from passenger travel.
Cargo shipping at the airport helps support a lot of local businesses, Redding said, not just the shipping industry. If a business is shipping something by air freight, he said it’s of particular importance to their business.
“The cargo capacity available at Willow Run makes Michigan a more attractive place for business,” Redding said. “Willow Run Airport connects Michigan manufacturing companies to the world, making quick deliveries of parts and finished products more viable.”
There’s a multiplier effect where the people who earn money at the airport want to live close by, he said, which creates a second round of spending that benefits the local economy.
The incomes of local workers at Willow Run makes up about $40.5 million of the $123 million economic impact from the airport, according to the report. Another $59 million is from direct spending, which also helps support local jobs.
Thomas Naughton, CEO of WCAA, said ultimately WCAA is a government entity designed to support the local economy, such as by creating new business opportunities, generating and stimulating jobs, and creating demand for goods and services – and not just in southeast Michigan but throughout the state.
The report determined Willow Run supports 950 jobs in southeast Michigan. The majority of this number work directly at the airport, but it also includes some positions that work indirectly with the airport.
This is critically important to the area, Naughton said. He said what is probably even more important is the role Willow Run plays in tandem with Detroit Metro.
Relationship with Detroit Metro
Willow Run and Detroit Metro airports aren’t really separate entities, Redding said, but parts of a cohesive whole.
Around 75,000 operations are run out of Willow Run, primarily cargo and general aviation.
If not for Willow Run, Naughton said the majority of these operations would be done through Detroit Metro, which would create more congestion there. He said Willow Run is classified as a national reliever airport; it helps to support the $10 billion of economic impact from Detroit Metro – which he believes would be much less successful without Willow Run.
Preparing for the future
WACC’s CEO also believes there’s significant opportunity for future development of the airport and the property around it.
“We’re making a significant investment in infrastructure,” he said.
For example, the main runway was reconstructed over the last two years.
Christopher Mullin, director of the Willow Run Airport, said the airport is in the process of what he called a generational update to the facility.
Naughton said WACC is looking for new entities to partner with and new opportunities for greater economic impact. It has to start with having the right infrastructure already in place though to support new business opportunities, otherwise he said the airport could lose out. ”It’s critically important again that we’re ready,” he said.
Willow Run’s important history and a look to future industry
Willow Run Airport has a unique status in the community as part of the historical fabric that makes up this part of the country, Mullin said.
“The contributions Michigan has made over time, some of the most significant ones occurred right here at Willow Run,” he said.
When Edsel Ford built this facility he built it to be the best in the world, Mullin said.
“The benefit we’ve been able to garner from that is the fact it was built to last,” he said. “We have enjoyed the benefits of that foresight and that quality of construction.
“I cannot imagine a facility that provided a greater return on investment to a local community than this one.”
During World War II, the Willow Run bomber plant was a good example to the world of some of the best production practices, Mullin said. He said it’s part of the reason the U.S., through industry, was able to outproduce its adversaries.
One way Willow Run Airport is trying to move forward now is with the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
UAV development is proceeding at a very rapid pace, Millen said. He said UAV and unmanned aerial system (UAS) development is project to be a $140 billion industry over the next 10 years.
This provides the opportunity for a new kind of partnership between WACC and the University of Michigan towards assisting with this type of development.