The support of planned and articulate economic development in Montgomery County is a long-time objective of the League of Women Voters. When we think of the airport (and unfortunately, many of us may not even know it exists), few of us look at it as a vital economic engine of our growth.
In a recent presentation at the “Lunch with the League” program, Lori Curless, manager of the Crawfordsville Regional Airport, showed us how she and her colleagues have transformed the facility into an important and financially stable enterprise that benefits virtually everyone in our area.
Aside from being a pilot herself and coming from a family with a long tradition in aviation, Curless also knows a lot about branding and marketing. Even before she took over in 2017, plans were underway to change the name from the Crawfordsville Municipal Airport to Crawfordsville Regional Airport. A small change like this clarifies the demographic in a much more robust way when promoting the facility. When you visit (and all are welcome — especially the best kept secret — a picnic shelter with great views), you will also be greeted in an exceptional terminal and a staff wearing airport branded clothing. Airport staff even provide concierge services to assist pilots and passengers in lodging, car rental and dining. All this helps establish our airport as a truly professionally run organization eager to have return customers.
Our airport has a yearly economic impact of about $80 million on our area. Surprised? There are 255 jobs supported one way or another as a result of the airport being here. This accounts for a yearly payroll of approximately $13 million. Crawfordsville Regional is ranked seventh among all airports in Indiana in terms of economic impact. So how does this happen? Consider this for a moment: a pilot flies a passenger in for a two-day meeting with one of our local businesses. Both need a place to stay. Both need to eat. The pilot needs something to do so he or she might visit our local museums or shop. Obviously, this is just a micro-example, but it all adds up over a period of time. The more pilots and corporate executive we can bring to Montgomery County, the more we all benefit.
All this cannot be done without a strong understanding of business, and Curless has that too. Her goal is to ensure the airport operates toward complete sustainability. Her business plan includes a balanced budget based on, among other things, competitive pricing, ensuring stakeholder protections and completing deferred maintenance. Fuel sales are also critical in maintaining stability and from 2017 to 2018, fuel sales have increased 53 percent for jet fuel and 17 percent for aviation gas.
Lori made it clear that she could not have accomplished what she has without the full support and cooperation of Mayor Todd Barton’s office and Montgomery County officials. She emphasized time and again that it is our airport. To celebrate its 75th anniversary this year, they will be having a full day celebration Sept. 7 right at the airport. So keep that in mind and remember “a mile of highway will take you just one mile … but a mile of runway will take you anywhere.”