The Hamilton and Stevensville airports have a “truly fantastic” economic impact on Ravalli County, according to the county Economic Development Authority’s presentation to the commissioners last week.
The effect of the Stevensville airport as a municipal enterprise is phenomenal, Julie Foster, the authority’s executive director, said at the Tuesday meeting.
“It is a well-kept secret that we have this asset, and when we look at the Ravalli County airport (it) is the same kind of asset,” Foster said. “I think most citizens in Ravalli County aren’t aware of the jobs and tax base.”
To assess the impact, Foster used information from the Montana Department of Revenue, the Montana Department of Transportation, demographic information about Ravalli County, and Hamilton Aviation reports and the U.S. Census.
When viewed as a single entity, the Ravalli Airport ranks among the top six county employers, has 204 jobs with a payroll nearing $8 million, and is one of the top 14 tax payers.
Foster said there is a compelling need for infrastructure at the airport and the Ravalli County Targeted Economic Development District (TEDD)
“As many of us know many of the businesses in that area don’t have access to wastewater, which is sewer, bathroom facilities, for their employees,” she said. “Internet has been as bad a barrier with the companies that we have.”
She presented a snapshot of a few of the businesses at the airport and within the TEDD, not all of which are related to the airport.
Choice Aviation maintains aircraft, teaches flight lessons and provides flight service. Marketing Masters manufactures hardware for multinational companies. A-TEC Aircraft Maintenance Center provides helicopter and aircraft maintenance and repair and is working to bring fiber technology service to the airport. Freight Monster does freight, high-tech logistics and data recovery. EverStone manufactures countertops and similar slab products from recycled glass.
Foster said projects underway that also need those services include a micro food processing facility, Riverside Crossing Adult Cottage Housing, and a biomass heating district.
“If we provided some infrastructure, possibly we could turn this into something much more,” Foster said. “Improving our economy in Ravalli County does not happen by accident, nor does it happen overnight. We expect positive changes.”
She encouraged the county to work with the city to generate opportunities and develop public infrastructure.
The 15-member audience shared the plea for infrastructure support during public comments.
Ken Weinheimer, owner of A-TEC, said he investigated the impact of internet fiber to the airport.
“None of the ISP providers knew there wasn’t high-speed infrastructure to the airport,” he said. “There is no cost to the county. The ISP providers assess each building as a value. We have 17 people out there interested in high-speed internet.”
Weinheimer said internet installation at the airport could continue to the Forest Service, Stock Farm and places north of the airport.
Foster encouraged the commissioners to be supportive of business efforts.
“If our county is to prosper, we must find a new, productive way to deal with our differences because our county is at a disadvantage when competing with Missoula and the world to attract good companies to our area,” Foster said. “The Ravalli County TEDD and the Ravalli County Airport are tremendous municipal assets.”
Commissioners Ray Hawk, Chris Hoffman, Doug Shallenberger and Jeff Burrows said they supported the efforts of Economic Development Authority, TEDD and the airport. Commissioner Greg Chilcott was not present.