SHERIDAN — A study released Wednesday by the Wyoming Department of Transportation shows Sheridan County’s airport has a substantial impact on the local economy, adding data to the anecdotal accounts of how important local air service is to the community.
According to the study, which included all of the state’s 34 airports, the Sheridan County Airport generated $48.2 million in economic activity, with $15.6 million of that directly related to the airport’s commercial airline functions. In addition, the airport generates $1.8 million in local tax revenue, with $580,910 of that coming from commercial air service activity. Data for this study was collected in late 2019 and early 2020 (pre-COVID), a time-frame in which many Wyoming airports had growing demand, according to the study.
The study also indicates key industries the airport supports, which include tourism, business use, health care and emergency services as well as state and federal agencies.
The local impact, though, represented a small portion of aviation’s overall economic contributions to the state outlined in WYDOT’s Aviation Economic Impact Study. Statewide, the study showed an overall economic impact of more than $2 billion in 2019, supporting nearly 22,000 jobs and helping to generate nearly $88 million in tax revenues.
The study showed substantial growth in aviation’s contributions to Wyoming’s economy compared to 2013, when the industry generated approximately $1.4 billion in annual economic activity and $55 million in state and local tax revenues.
A significant part of that growth, according to the study, can be attributed to the tourism industry and the visitors that use the state’s nine airports providing commercial airline services.
Jackson Hole Airport topped the list for the state in terms of total commercial visitor expenditures at $763,128,400 annually. The second highest airport in terms of commercial visitor expenditures was Casper-Natrona County International Airport at $29.9 million. In comparison, Sheridan County Airport ranked eighth at $3,276,100 total commercial visitor expenditures, with only Riverton generating less at approximately $2.6 million.
Overall, the study found, visitors generated $1.2 billion in economic activity across the state.
Sheridan County officials have pointed to commercial air service as a tool for recruiting new businesses to the area, as well. They’ve often pointed to businesses like Weatherby, Kennon and others who lean on commercial air service to visit clients located in other states.
During a webinar and panel discussion regarding the study, Gov. Mark Gordon noted that on average, 718,000 visitors arrive every year in Wyoming, most on commercial airline flights.
“Commercial airline service doesn’t just bring in visitors; it’s also relied upon by many businesses to attract new employees, and, more importantly, to bring new economic development opportunities into our state,” Gordon said.
Other participants in the webinar — including L&H Industrial’s Mike Wandler — said supporting air service in rural America will often fall to government, just as transportation infrastructure like road maintenance.
Sheridan County and the city of Sheridan have contributed to providing local commercial air service by providing revenue guarantees for service providers. According to the current capacity purchase agreement, the state covers 60% of the costs of air service while local governments — the city of Sheridan and Sheridan County — split the remaining 40%.
While Sheridan County Airport Manager John Stopka said he hasn’t had time to review the study released this week, officials in Sheridan County have long noted the importance of the service.
“We make a financial commitment to the air service to keep it going because we believe it’s important and we believe it’s a vital part of our economy for Sheridan,” said Rich Bridger, Sheridan mayor, in October 2020.