Charleston’s Yeager Airport generates nearly $175 million in total economic output annually and creates 1,876 full-time jobs, while bringing in 95,000 out-of-state visitors who spend $37 million statewide on food, lodging, entertainment and shopping, according to a study commissioned by local officials and released Wednesday by Marshall University’s Center for Business and Economic Research.
“This is a very important asset we have up on this hill,” said Kanawha County Commissioner Dave Hardy, who sought the study and worked with the Charleston Area Alliance to come up with the $30,000 needed to pay for it. The results of the study, announced at a news conference preceding Yeager Airport’s regular monthly meeting, “underscore how important Yeager Airport is, not just to Kanawha County, but to the region and the state as a whole,” Hardy said.
While a similar study was done nearly 12 years ago to gauge the Yeager-based 130th Airlift Wing’s economic impact on the region when the U.S. Department of Defense was considering closing the Air National Guard facility, the study released Wednesday was the first to take into account the economic activity of all operations at the Charleston airport, including its military component, general aviation terminal, parking building, commercial airline and air freight operations, and rental car, restaurant, gift shop and office space tenants.
Military and civilian employees of the 130th Airlift Wing and employees of other airport tenants, such as Executive Air, account for 1,237 of the 1,876 full-time jobs credited to Yeager’s presence, while airport vendors serving passengers account for another 561 workers and Yeager itself has 78 full-time employees.
The total annual payroll for all airport components totals $70.5 million a year, according to the study. That sum added to the $7.7 million in annual income generated by Yeager Airport, the $116.6 million produced by its tenants, and $50.3 million in passenger spending accounts for the $175 million in total annual economic output identified by the study. The airport generates an additional $11 million annually in tax revenues.
Charleston Area Alliance Executive Director Matt Ballard said the study “will serve as an important tool for policy makers for years to come” in evaluating Yeager Airport’s regional and statewide economic significance.
The Charleston airport’s passenger boarding numbers — generally flat to declining since 2012, including a full year of successive decreases in 2014 — showed a 1.4 percent increase last month, and based on current parking building numbers, is expected to show another modest increase for October, according to a marketing report released during Wednesday’s board meeting.
Yeager spokesman Mike Plante attributed the uptick in passenger numbers to a new television ad campaign produced in conjunction with National Travel and launched three months ago.
Last year, Yeager boarded 225,170 passengers, compared with 270,193 in 2012, before several airlines serving the airport discontinued service, dropped routes or reduced daily flights.
In other developments, the Charleston airport’s governing board voted to join Charleston, Kanawha County, the state Department of Transportation, and at least four other West Virginia cities in a lawsuit charging West Virginia Paving of violating state antitrust laws, pending a review by legal counsel Charles Bailey.
Plante announced that the nationally televised Spartan Race National Championship will be held at the Bechtel Summit Scouting Reserve near Mount Hope next October, bringing hundreds of obstacle-overcoming endurance runners and their families to the area, many of them via Yeager Airport. Yeager staffers will be working with the New River Gorge Boy Scouts complex to provide ground transportation from the airport to the competition site.
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