Although it doesn’t service major commercial airlines or draw huge waiting lines, the Marshalltown Municipal Airport, nestled about four miles north of town just off of Highway 14, is a crucial economic development and community asset nonetheless.
Local leaders, along with executives from Marshalltown Aviation Inc. and representatives of the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce, gathered at the facility on Wednesday evening to celebrate the near completion of a $3.7 million hangar and terminal renovation, which was made possible through a $2.1 million investment from the city and $1.6 million in state and federal aviation funds generated through the jet fuel tax.
“We’re pleased with how it brightens the look for people coming into Marshalltown,” said Public Works Director Heather Thomas, who noted that there are only a few punch list items remaining to be finished.
Along with an open house and light refreshments, a formal ribbon cutting was held, and Marshalltown Aviation President and Co-Owner Steve Valbracht and Mayor Joel Greer, an avid pilot himself, stood before attendees to deliver remarks about why they felt the project was so important.
“This team here, the whole company, is really proud to represent Marshalltown and this facility, so it’s really an honor for us,” Valbracht said.
After joking that he would keep his remarks under 45 minutes, Greer showed off his log book and recalled a few of his own experiences flying to and from the airport — nobody got hurt, he was happy to announce. He also remarked that Ethan Nasalroad, the other co-owner of Marshalltown Aviation, was an excellent but demanding pilot and instructor and noted that, due to his day job as a lawyer, he knew a private jet could reach any county seat in Iowa from Marshalltown in 50 minutes or less.
“If any of you or your family members have interest in flying, this is the real deal,” Greer said. “This is a wonderful facility.”
Greer then praised the new modern aesthetic of both the terminal and hangar and opined that it sends a strong first impression of the community to company executives who are traveling to town either with existing businesses or because they are considering building in Marshalltown. He gave credit to Valbracht both for helping to transform the facility and for his personal commitment to Marshalltown, moving here from Newton and getting involved in local boards and commissions.
After Greer cut the ceremonial ribbon to officially christen the rededication, Valbracht took time to explain in more detail the purpose the airport serves in the community and why he felt the investment in giving it a more modern update was warranted.
“The most important thing is we created a way for access to the community for larger corporate jets that couldn’t spend the night with us before, so the whole goal from the beginning was to get a taller hangar door so that we could get in the type of corporate jets that are flying into — they were utilizing Newton and Ames instead of Marshalltown to visit our community,” Valbracht said. “Priority number one was to get the large hangar.”
The new hangar measures 100’x120′ with a 28’x100′ door. While the hangar project was being explored, the Marshalltown city council determined it would be more efficient to also consider an entirely new terminal at the same time.
“This whole building is all brand new. It’s all brand new,” Valbracht said. “The outside area is the same, but you’re in an absolutely brand new facility.”
He added that he didn’t feel it was difficult to garner support for the renovations because local leaders realized the value of a strong municipal airport.
“As an economic development tool, an airport is critical because the folks that are typically investing in property around Marshalltown or the folks that are gonna look at putting a manufacturing facility in here, they’re not traveling on the airlines,” Valbracht said. “So we need to make sure they have access to the community with a private aircraft.”
Of the approximately 33,000 private jets out there, he added, only about four percent are owned by Fortune 500 companies. In addition to the airport’s role in serving businesses both new and prospective, Marshalltown Aviation Inc., which leases the property from the city, arranges private travel accommodations for individuals who request them, hosts flight classes and provides fuel for crop dusting planes. They are also planning a fly-in open house sometime in the fall.
And while the airport isn’t the sole factor that may lead a corporate executive to locate his or her company here, Valbracht, who frequently flies into other communities to see what they have to offer, is optimistic it will help.
“We have the opportunity to see how they react when they get to a town, and if the airport doesn’t meet their needs or it isn’t like what we have here, you can tell that they get a first impression of that community. We’re really blessed that we get to give this first impression,” he said.
Chamber President/CEO John Hall agreed that the airport is a key piece of the economic development puzzle.
“Investments in assets like our airport show that our community is committed to self improvement and continual investment, which we know companies want to see. We know that our airport has already been a front door to many existing companies and has worked well for us in the recruitment of new industries in the past,” he said. “We expect that this new facility will serve an even more prominent role in pursuing those opportunities for our community and our region.”
The airport is located at 2651 170th St.