A few of the creative ways airports are attracting funding
BY John Boyce, Contributing Editor
Financial mechanisms to help develop an airport and its attendant businesses don't exactly grow on trees, but they're abundant enough that if you have a little imagination and are willing to do the research, you might find a financial mechanism to grow the trees.
"There's a lot of stuff out there," says Paul Meyers, CEO of Aviation Management Consulting Group in Englewood, CO. "You have to kind of dig for it... For instance, you plant some trees to reduce the ozone depletion and you're eligible for funds from an environmental protection agency. There are some stretches and you have to be creative, but they're out there.... As airports get more competitive, they need to get more creative in these areas."
Many funding mechanisms take the form of tax abatements or other financial incentives in exchange for job creation. But there is money available from many sources in exchange for improvements or enhancement to whatever the sources are interested in. Every department of government and many non-governmental entities are potential economic boosts for airport development. Many programs are for general community and economic development, but airports and airport businesses can and do qualify.
Jerry Olson, airport manager at Cheyenne (WY) Airport, has been creative in attracting funds and businesses to his airport. Among many programs he has exploited is a local soil conservation program under which he received funds for planting trees that helped with noise buffers around the airport.
"If you want to be effective and get things done and you don't have a lot of money," Olson says, "it's imperative that you understand the funding programs at the federal, state, and local levels.
"We've used ... a couple of primary federal programs to develop infrastructure. These are economic development-related projects, so what you generally have to do is have a bird in the hand — a company that says, ’We're going to relocate to the community or expand in that community and create jobs.' Once you've identified the bird in the hand, there are funding vehicles out there that will fund for infrastructure. You're not going to get many federal or state or local funding programs that will actually go to subsidize businesses, but you can build or improve facilities with public dollars. That sells pretty well.... That's the type of thing we've tried to do."
VISION AND PROGRESS
Eleven years ago when Olson arrived in Cheyenne he had a vision for the airport that included attracting a regional airline. Many bumps and hurdles had to be surmounted along the road before Great Lakes Airlines's recent service to Cheyenne. But the beginning was the building of a road to open up a 68-acre tract for a business park he had in mind. It was the road and subsequent further infrastructure development that was necessary to attract the airline.
Olson convinced the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce that the road he needed to open up the area would lead to job creation. The EDA has a 50-50 matching grant program for just such infrastructure development and it gave Olson $900,000 for that purpose.
"That was one of the first projects I did," Olson says. "At the time, we planned the creation of 90 jobs, or $10,000 for each person employed. I just landed Great Lakes Aviation because I had the infrastructure out there. We should have about 400 people in the business park, which far exceeds the 90 that was required."
Since that first project, Olson has used that EDA program and other state and federal grant programs to gain dollars for hangar construction to attract other aviation-related businesses. Besides job creation, the funding and subsequent developments have had an astonishing impact on the Cheyenne economy.
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