Aurora Aviation President Bruce Bennett thinks many people in the region have the complete wrong impression about what goes on at the Aurora State Airport.
“I think most people drive by it and don’t think about it, much like a dock on the river,” Bennet said. “Or people seem to have the wrong idea that it’s a rich guy’s club, or a luxury car club, or something – just a bunch of wealthy guys with toys. There are a handful of those but that’s by far the minority.”
Bennet recently led a tour of the airport that included Canby Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mallory Gwynn, Wilsonville Area Chamber of Commerce Director Kevin O’Malley, North Marion School District Superintendent Boyd Keyser and Aurora Mayor Bill Graupp, among others.
Bennet demonstrated that the airport really is a bustling hive of innovative high technology companies that employ hundreds of people — Columbia Helicopters, an operator of commercial aircraft that provide lifting services to industries such as forestry, construction and disaster relief, employs 410 workers on its own — and the tour guests wanted to learn more about how the airport contributes to the local economy and the career opportunities available in aviation and aeronautics for regional students.
Aurora State Airport is one of only 84 general aviation airports in the nation the FAA designated as “nationally significant,” according to information from the Wilsonville Area Chamber of Commerce. In 2014, the airport saw 94,000 operations equaling 117,675 “general aviation visitors.”
There are 1,200 people employed at the airport and another 274 related jobs off of airport property. The 2007 Oregon Aviation Plan, the most recent information available, found that the airport had a direct economic impact of $35 million in family wages and added $75.08 million in business sales to the region. Bennett said those numbers have definitely increased since 2007.
That’s because of thriving companies like Metal Innovations, Inc., which provides major and minor repairs, alterations and modifications to sheet metal and composite material for the fixed and rotor-wing marketplace, and currently is hiring new employees; Pacific Coast Avionics, a major supplier of avionics, instruments, and pilot supplies to customers worldwide that operates a retail store at the airport; Helicopter Transport Services, which support operations for fire suppression, aerial construction and external load operations; and of course Life Flight Network, the helicopter ambulance company headquartered there, all continue growing.
Yet the airport has no collective supporting voice that helps get the word out to the public and the business community about the dozens and dozens of businesses operating there, Bennett said.
“A lot of times the airport gets kind of maligned just because people don’t understand all the jobs that are here, and I don’t think any, or very few, understand the airport is providing their children’s school and police and fire departments with revenue due to the property taxes,” he said. “There are hundreds of millions of dollars in property and buildings out here, which means hundreds of thousands a year in property taxes that go straight into the community. We don’t have anything specific to sell; we’re just trying to get the word out.”
Graupp said regional communities need to become aware of the airport, which would help with the push to get Airport Road widened and in turn increase commerce.
“The entire area doesn’t realize how much innovation and work is going on out there,” he said. “I also want to get more of the businesses there aware of schools and introduce curriculum that could lead students into some real high-wage, long-term careers.”
Gwynn said the biggest surprise of the tour was getting to see the diversity of businesses that reside at Aurora State Airport. “Years of driving by and up until the tour, I assumed that the buildings were only dedicated to aircraft storage and maintenance,” he said. “I couldn’t have been more skewed in my assumptions.
“I believe the Canby Area Chamber of Commerce has an incredible opportunity to work with the Aurora Airport and businesses here in Canby who fly in potential customers, business associates and supply chain partners,” Gwynn continued. “It emphasizes the need for a hotel in our city, (and) building a relationship with businesses at the airport also creates a pathway for our high school students to become familiar with opportunities in the field of aeronautics – another fantastic option for our local students.”
O’Malley said Aurora State Airport is a huge economic treasure, not only for Wilsonville and nearby cities, such as Tualatin and Canby, but for the entire region.
“I’ve driven by that airport for 35 years, but to walk among and see the vitality of the businesses, not only what they do for local jobs but the aviation industry, it’s inspiring,” he said. “There are so many large and small businesses back there hidden from everyone’s view, but it’s an important part of our economy. It’s there, you see the tower, the runway, but you don’t realize there are thousands of jobs and how much of a huge economic engine it is. I was a little bit in awe. I didn’t expect to be blown away by the kind of vitality that’s there. The airport is a real jewel. You see a small aerial photographer, Life Flight, and transport services – the diversity is just incredible.”