At Minuteman Airfield in Stow, flying isn’t the only business. The airport also has a hand in cooking, ice-cream making, farming and even beekeeping.
Area airports provide a big boost to the local economy, according to the recent Statewide Airport Economic Impact Study, chipping in more than just convenient transportation. While airports contribute to the strength of the economy, that success is cyclical. Airport directors said their airfields not only boost the state economy, they depend on it.
The four airports in MetroWest and the Milford area host a variety of on-field businesses that employ thousands. At Minuteman in Stow, Lawrence G. Hanscom Field in Bedford, the Hopedale Airport and Marlborough Airport, a total of 1,905 people are employed. Together, the airports have an economic output of $362.6 million.
Minuteman puts $12.3 million into the local economy in many ways, owner Donald McPherson said.
When people fly into Stow, they can visit Nancy’s Airfield Café for a meal. They can then grab ice cream, get flying lessons, buy local honey from the on-field apiary, visit the farm and more all at the airport. The on-field concierge service directs customers to local hotels, bed and breakfasts, shops and restaurants, offering local taxis to take them there.
In these ways, local airports flood the economy with customers, but Sharon Williams, MassPort director of aviation at Hanscom Airfield, said bringing those customers in is easiest when the economy is already strong.
“Historically, Hanscom’s economic impact is directly related to the local economy,” Williams said. “As Massachusetts businesses grow, so does the need for business aviation.”
Hanscom has the largest economic impact of the four local airports with a total 1,745 employees paid $100 million in wages for a total output of $349 million, Williams said. That figure doesn’t include the military operations at Hanscom, which Williams said are mostly separate from the airfield. The combined economic output of the airport and the military operation is $1.6 billion.
When local corporations are doing well, Williams said more people fly in and out to do business and more private pilots have the money to fly. When business is down, flights come in less frequently and the airport’s economic impact drops.
“It works both ways,” Williams said. “All these people flying in are spending money in Massachusetts. They need services here at the airport, which drives jobs, and they need services in the state, which drives hotel rooms and restaurants.”
Marlborough Airport owner Sandra Stetson said much of the traffic at her airport is business related. The Marlborough Airport, with five employees, has an economic output of $468,000. Stetson operates a flight school on the field.
When the economy is flowing, McPherson said so are on-field businesses. Nancy’s Airfield Café is setting records, he said, after feature stories in area publications made it a destination.
“It makes our waitresses happy and our cooks and dishwashers happy,” he said.
According to the state report, another way airports contribute to the local economy is by paying employees, who then can spend the money at other area businesses.
The Hopedale Airport is also home to an industrial and business park which includes such businesses as a gymnastics school, a day school and a lawn care company. In total, the airport feeds $899,000 into the economy.
Over the years, McPherson said he’s watched businesses started on the airfield outgrow the space and find bigger locations elsewhere.
“We’re sort of like a small business incubator,” he said.
So, the business moves out, contributes to the economy elsewhere, and leaves a space open for a new business to fill and maybe even exceed its predecessor’s cash flow, further filling local coffers. Though each of these factors contributes to economic growth, McPherson, like Williams, said it all comes back to the very thing they are supposed to be helping to grow.
“The amount of activity really depends on the health of the economy,” he said.