For communities across South Dakota, it is Main Street that thrives and drives economic activity. We are a state of small businesses, which make up 96.2 percent of all companies in the state and represent 58.8 percent of the private-sector workforce.
These small businesses produce a lot more beyond even our state, producing 75.4 percent of the exports from South Dakota. And for a large rural state like ours, exporting presents a unique set of logistical challenges. Companies in rural South Dakota must compete with their counterparts in metropolitan centers, which have easier access to the resources they need and transportation options.
Fortunately, our 70 public-use airports and air transportation network across the state ensure that businesses, farms, producers and plants have access to the same resources that big cities take for granted. Many of these companies and individuals use their aircraft so that they can be at multiple meetings in different locations in a single day, fly directly into communities not served by commercial airlines, and transport tools, personnel and supplies. And for communities across the state with general aviation airports, it means that the largest employers can remain in their hometown — not outgrow it and move to a larger city. It is this way across our country. While most commercial traffic goes through a handful of large hub airports, smaller aircraft serve more than 5,000 airports across the country.
For example in Corsica in eastern South Dakota, the president of Noteboom Implement flies a single-engine aircraft to travel between his four locations in Corsica, Chamberlain, Parkston and Platte, as well as Sioux Falls for many business services. General aviation has become an integral part of his business model — to transport him and his tools and staff over long distances and on a flexible schedule. Across our state, doctors and medical providers can get patients from smaller towns to larger cities and trauma and specialty health centers; companies can monitor their power lines after bad storms; and communities can remain connected after natural disasters and bad storms.
But now in Washington, D.C., some are proposing to privatize our air traffic control system and put it under the control of the biggest airlines. While this may sound like a good idea at first blush — we all believe in the strength of our private sector — in this case privatization would mean that the system would serve the biggest of airline operators and the biggest hub airports where they base their operations. Our small airports would undoubtedly lose even more commercial service, commercial airlines would be completely free to tax consumers and smaller operators to pad their bottom line, and businesses and small communities in states like South Dakota would be left out in the cold.
Right now, it is Congress that oversees our air transportation network, ensuring that we support our vast network of thousands of airports, aircraft and communities large and small. Our leaders in South Dakota have fought to make sure that our system works for rural states, supporting access for businesses, sprawling ranches, medical providers, flight training and farms across our state. Let’s make sure to keep it that way.
David Owen is the president of the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry.