A number of North Carolina’s general aviation airports — small airports like the Asheboro Regional Airport — have seen terminal upgrades in recent years.
Pictures of several of those new facilities were included in a recent presentation to unveil a vision of a new terminal for the Asheboro airport.
The proposed two-story, 22,739-square-foot facility would offer improved amenities for pilots, as well as meeting rooms, a cafe open to the public and several thousand square feet of rental space. The proposal carries a price tag of about $7.5 million.
A two-story block terminal at the Shelby-Cleveland County Regional Airport was among those in the presentation to a joint meeting of the Asheboro City Council, the Randolph County Board of Commissioners and the Asheboro Airport Authority.
Shelby City Manager Rich Howell said in an interview last week that his city of about 22,000 faced economic woes before the 2008 downturn ever came to pass. One of the things city officials did to battle back was to replace an aging terminal, which dated to the 1950s, at the city-owned airport.
The aggressive move to spruce up the airport was one of many things that helped fuel a turnaround in the city and county’s economic fortunes — more than new 1,900 jobs and investment of more than $1.8 billion in new and expanded business and industry announced since 2011.
Of course, the county’s location — 45 miles east of Charlotte, 80 miles west of Asheville and within 60 miles of both Greenville and Spartanburg in South Carolina — is a selling point in economic development efforts.
But when corporate visitors come to see the place, Howell said, it’s good to make a good first impression.
Many arrive at the airport.
“That’s your front door,” Howell said. “It was dilapidated and quite embarrassing when we had people flying in and out. If that’s what they see, they think, ‘These people don’t really care.’ A lot of folks have the false impression that the airport is just the place where a rich guy stores his plane.”
The city put concerted effort into elevating the airport facility, from runway, taxiway and lighting improvements to sprucing up hangars. City officials terminated a contract with a private operator. The city runs it now. The last piece of the puzzle was to replace the outdated terminal.
“We were hurting before 2008,” he said. “We were struggling. Our leaders said, ‘We’re going to do something about it.’ They made some decisions to make some investments in infrastructure. The airport happened to be one of them.
“We’ve been very successful in the last five years attracting business and industry. We’ve had a number of success stories. A lot of that has to do with the fact that we were willing to invest in our community — and we had good leaders that were able to take the heat from the naysayers.”
Howell said the county contributed to $180,000 in matching funds required to receive $180,000 for the new terminal from the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Division of Aviation; the city funded the balance of the $1.2 million project from reserves: “One thing that can be said: If a community is not willing to invest in itself, how can it expect anybody else to?”
The new terminal, which is about 6,000 square feet, has restrooms, a lounge, refreshments and a pilot’s lounge, as well as offices, a kitchen and a conference room.
“Ours gets a lot of use with the corporate traffic we have coming in and out,” Howell said. “They come in and have a meeting and fly out.”
The city terminated its contract with a private operator which had been managing the airport. Now the city runs it.
“Our fuel sales at the airport dramatically increased,” he said. “We have more traffic in and out of the airport.”
An economic impact survey of North Carolina’s airports completed by the state in 2012 placed the annual economic contribution of Shelby’s airport at $15.1 million. By comparison, the study estimated the economic impact of Asheboro’s airport at $5.9 million.
But Howell said simply looking at “dollars and cents” does not provide a complete picture of the importance of small airports like those in Shelby or Asheboro.
“I think you can boil it down to a number,” he said, “but I don’t think that tells the whole story.”