$12M: New Airport Has Big Impact on Area
March 19, 2016
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  • The Bowman County Airport Authority’s nearly decade-long pursuit of a new airport paid off last year when the first aircraft took off from the runway to the east of the city.

    But now its effects have been documented in a recent report to show what that pursuit meant for the county.

    About $12 million was injected into Bowman County’s economy over the last five years because of the airport, according to the North Dakota Statewide Aviation Economic Impact Study, authored by the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission.

    The report, which uses data collected by airlines, passengers, North Dakota businesses, airport representatives, the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission, the Federal Aviation Administration, gives a five-year summary of income generated by all the state’s airports and the jobs that they both directly and indirectly have created.

    Bowman County’s airport created a total of 84 jobs over the last five years, with 40 of those being direct, full-time jobs.

    Rodney Schaaf, president of the Bowman County Airport Authority, was pleasantly surprised by the findings when he first read the report.

    Schaaf indicated that the majority of the 84 jobs were represented by the large amount of people who worked to create the new airport, including construction companies and subcontractors that were on-site.

    What’s more is that Bowman’s new airport has generated more income and created more jobs in the last five years than all other general aviation airports in North Dakota, and even boasts the distinction of surpassing the larger commercial airport in Devils Lake.

    The $12 million figure contained in the report represented the money spent within the county by those employed by the airport. It included spending on items such as hotel contracts, supplies, food and other purchased goods.

    It also took into account the permanent full-time employees such as the weather modification contracts and crop dusting service.

    The airport had roughly $4.5 million in total payroll expenses since 2010.

    The large economic stimulus wouldn’t have been possible had the airport authority waited even longer to construct the airport.

    The project wouldn’t have been possible at all if it had begun this year, Schaaf indicated.

    That is because last month the state decided to end its allocation of oil and gas impact grants due to the drop in oil prices and oil activity. The state is no longer taking in enough dollars to fund those grants.

    Bowman County started at the perfect time, commencing construction in 2013, when oil prices were still surging.

    “I’ve been reminded more than once that our timing was perfect because we got some of these grants when the oil price was good,” Schaaf reiterated. “They had money to give out.”

    Airport projects around the state, such as the high-dollar projects planned in Williston and Dickinson, now have to be indefinitely postponed or will need to seek alternate funding routes.

    “There’s no funds,” he said. “If you had an actual shovel moving in the ground, you still held on to your grant. Just in the planning stages, that went back to the state.”

    The FAA majorly funds new airport projects, such as the one in Bowman County, the state picks up five percent and local government picks up five percent. Though, that’s not always the case, but it’s still close.

    When Bowman County began seeking funding for its new airport, the state had a booming general fund, so it picked up 15 percent of the total construction cost, with the county paying five percent.

    The total cost of the new airport totaled about $14 million. The county provided about five percent of that.

    “We lucked out,” he said. “We’re pretty fortunate.”

    The new airport has seen an abundance of use since its opening last summer.

    Hunting season is big with people flying in on jets from around the country. That means further economic impact.

    “They buy fuel here, go to lodge, the pubs are busy, they buy their ammo here,” Schaaf indicated.

    While the downturn in oil activity has slowed the frequency of aircrafts that takeoff and land at the new airport, the airport still has its regular users.