Sandi Elder likes to take her grandkids to the Greeley-Weld County Airport for lunch.
They eat while watching planes land and take off, and sometimes they’ll get to talk to a pilot. If they’re really lucky, a pilot might even let them peek inside a plane.
Elder, who is a Greeley city councilwoman and the chair of the Greeley-Weld County Airport Board, said she likes to tell people about the airport because it’s such an important part of the community.
But very few people know just how important the airport is to the local economy. It has an economic output of $94.1 million each year and accounts for 672 jobs, according to a 2013 economic impact study for Colorado airports.
“The airport is an economic driver — there’s no question about it,” said Gary Cyr, the airport manager. “We need to have people recognize these economic impacts.”
The study, which is done every five years, looks at each airport in state and rates its economic output, taxes paid, jobs sustained and the payroll.
The Greeley-Weld airport property is home to at least 10 local businesses, including the Barnstormer restaurant where Elder and her grandkids eat.
The state study shows that the airport is linked to $1.9 million in local and state taxes each year.
“It’s a jewel in our community and people just don’t realize that,” Elder said.
Cyr said they recently produced a video to inform people about the airport because he thinks a lot of people don’t know. Cyr’s main job is to run the airport, but a large part of that is bringing awareness.
“There are a lot of folks in Greeley who are not aware of who we are and what we do,” he said. “There are folks that will come in and go to the restaurant and never see the other activity that takes place here.”
The Greeley-Weld airport is considered a general aviation/corporate airport. This is likely the reason locals don’t know much about it — it isn’t a commercial airport. People can’t catch regular flights out of Greeley. However, in the general aviation/corporate category, Greeley-Weld is third in the state. It’s run by a seven-person board of directors. The board always has two county commissioners, two city council members, a county-appointed representative and a city-appointed representative. The seventh person is agreed upon by the rest of the board.
“I really like the relationship that the airport brought with the county and the city together,” Elder said.
According to the state study, 23,000 visitors arrive in Colorado each year via the Greeley-Weld airport.
Many of those are corporate travelers coming in to conduct business in Greeley. Cyr said a few of the big businesses, such as JBS and Hensel Phelps, have their own plane or jet that is kept in Greeley.
When businesses are relocating, and they look at Weld County or Greeley, the airport is a big selling point.
The airport’s revenue is generated in a number of ways, including hangar leases, building leases, land leases for oil and gas, farming and more. It’s self-sustaining, Elder said, meaning neither the city nor the county puts money into the airport to keep it running.
The airport leases land to at least 10 different businesses that help build the economic impact. Almost all of them revolve around plane technologies and maintenance.
It houses Harris Aviation, Peak Flight Support, Beegles Aircraft, Advance AeroTechnologies Group, Western Plains Aviation, Songbird Aviation of Colorado LLC, Blue Sky Flyers flying club, Barcelona Aviation Detailing, Bell Aircraft and Aircraft Cylinders and Engines Inc. Aims Community College also runs an aviation program from the airport.
Cyr said there are at least 100 people working between all of those businesses and six full-time airport employees.
The airport’s total payroll, including the other businesses on the property, is estimated at $30.8 million annually.
Elder said it’s an exciting time for the airport because, with Cyr’s help, they have been able to make a lot of updates in recent years, which have helped the airport grow.
This summer, Cyr said they have been working on $1.5 million in capital improvements, including adding an additional office and a large conference room. There are also a lot of updates being made to the asphalt and one runway.
Elder said with everything happening, it’s a good time for residents to visit and learn about the airport.
“Go out, have a burger at the Barnstormer, watch the planes,” she said. “It’s in our community — you might as well enjoy it.”
Cyr likes to remind visitors of an old adage.
“If you build a mile of road, it takes you a mile,” he said, “but if you build a mile of runway, it takes you to the world.”