The runway realignment project at the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport will create jobs and contribute to the region’s growth, but officials argue it’s also the key to a thriving economy throughout the region for years to come.
The five-year, $119 million project to bring the Palouse’s air hub into compliance with Federal Aviation Administration standards is “essential” to economic growth in a region that is otherwise geographically isolated and largely inaccessible via other means of transportation, according to an economic impact study presented at a Wednesday meeting of the airport board. Steven Peterson, regional economist and clinical assistant professor of economics for the University of Idaho, prepared the report.
“The airport … is an absolutely essential component of the region’s economy,” Peterson said. “If the airport were to go away, it would largely damage our economic competitiveness.”
For each year of the five-year project, 93 jobs will be created, contributing $20.1 million to the gross regional product in Washington and adding $3 million in local and state taxes.
That development will support the airport’s growth and the growth of other industries, according to the report.
The airport is seeing increased demand for flights, coupled with more passengers. In 2015, the number of passengers who used the airport increased 20 percent over the previous year.
“It looks like we’re on track for another record year this year,” Peterson said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they grew another 20 percent.”
The runway realignment project’s aims to serve larger aircraft, offer more flights and mitigate weather delays and cancellations allow for an airport that better supports other industries and keeps them connected to the Palouse, according to the report.
“Economic growth in any one part of the region benefits everybody, and that’s particularly true on the Palouse,” Peterson said.
The affected industries include higher education – comprised of Washington State University, the University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College – the technology manufacturing and services industry spearheaded by Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, agriculture and retail trade.
Without the realignment project, the airport would not meet FAA criteria to serve commercial airlines, according to the economic impact report. That would turn the airport into a hub for mainly cropdusters, and send air travelers to Lewiston or Spokane.
As an immediate result, 226 jobs would be lost, according to the report. The $2.5 million in federal grants that the airport brings in annually would also disappear from the region’s economy.
The long-term effects could include damage to other industries, according to the report, including a loss of competitiveness on a global market, difficulty attracting new companies to the region, difficulty retaining employees and researchers, slowed growth at the region’s universities and a reduction in tourism and visitor spending.
Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson, chairman of the airport board, said it was clear how important the airport is because of the collaboration between Washington and Idaho counties, cities and universities.
“We know how critical this airport is to all of us,” he said.
Moscow Mayor Bill Lambert, vice chairman of the airport board, said he wasn’t surprised by the results of the economic impact study and agrees that the airport is necessary.
“We’re a part of that global competitiveness, as a whole, on the Palouse, and how well we do it is going to define our future,” he said.