Amazon and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are rapidly growing, driving Lakeland Linder International Airport’s business success and economic impact.
Now, a new report from Kimley-Horn shows that economic impact looks even better on paper.
Today, the airport supports over 3,200 employees, more than double what it supported several years ago, and generates $1.5 billion of economic impact, which in 2019 was $575 million, according to an economic impact report released in March.
The airport is working with Polk County and the Central Florida Regional Planning Council to focus on bringing more activity in the aviation cluster, Airport Director Gene Conrad said.
“We have a shortage of pilots and mechanics. The more talent we can bring here and work with aviation schools and training on-site, we can produce those jobs,” Conrad said.
He attributes the high growth to working with partners and existing tenants such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hurricane Hunters, which is undergoing a massive expansion.
NOAA is nearly complete on its $12.3 million expansion which is slated to employ another 50 to 75 workers for its headquarters. Jobs range from maintenance to engineering, Conrad said. The expansion will create more than 69,000 additional square feet for its current 106,000-square-foot facility.
Another tenant generating immense impact is Amazon Air, which invested $100 million last year to build its largest air cargo hub in the Southeast at the Lakeland airport, creating more than 1,100 jobs.
Conrad also named Draken International as another, which provides tactical fighter aircraft for the military and defense industry. It opened at the airport in 2011 and initially leased 30,000 square feet. The company now leases 150,000 square feet, investing over $2 million in capital. It also grew its workforce from 80 employees to more than 300.
Down the runway
“In the next six months, we are going to see more projects. I’m talking with two private entities that want to have private aircraft storage for businesses,” Conrad said. “I’ve also been contacted by hangar development firms wanting to build hangars as we are 100% full.”
One project in the early stages is Marathon’s new fuel farm dubbed the Aero Center Lakeland. Marathon FBO Partners will provide fueling, aircraft parking, aircraft rental and aircraft maintenance services at the airport once completed by 2023. FBOs are primary providers of support services to general aviation operators that need a public-use airport.
The company will lease 7 acres and invest $7 million to $8 million, Conrad said. The company is currently in the construction phase of building a 10,000-square-foot maintenance hangar and a 5,000-square-foot fuel farm.
Economic impact report