Ankeny's New Airport

March 8, 2002


Economic development effort prospers, centered around a new GA airport
by John F. Infanger

ANKENY, IA - Ten years ago, a drive north of Des Moines revealed farmland and little else. Today, the exit off I-35 to Ankeny leads one to malls, industrial development, and a vibrant general aviation airport, which have all come about as the result of a concerted economic development program put together by Polk County and the cities of Ankeny, Altoona, and Bondurant.

Dave Joens, transportation planning Manager
Jeff Denniston, Exec 1 Aviation director of business development

For this article, representatives of Ankeny, the county, local businesses, the Iowa DOT, and the fixed base operator all gathered to tell the Ankeny Regional Airport story. The group even included a weatherman from the CBS affiliate in Des Moines who bases his aircraft here and often promotes aviation during his broadcasts.

According to officials, the airport initiative actually began in 1973 when a regional authority was exploring a site to possibly replace Des Moines International Airport, for which Ankeny Regional today serves as a reliever. While that initiative eventually died, officials in Ankeny and Polk County saw the potential for a general aviation airport that could be a central element in future economic development. In the mid-80s, the Ankeny Industrial Development Corporation commissioned a feasibility study to be conducted by Jerry Searle, a senior project planner with Snyder & Associates.

Explains Jeff Segin, the former Ankeny city manager and longtime airport authority member, "From an economic development perspective, we knew it would be a good thing not only for Ankeny but for northeastern Polk County. That report was very positive, and it evolved into a formal master plan which was submitted and the project was subsequently approved by the Federal Aviation Administration."

Segin says that FAA has pumped some $12 million into the airport. "The state was an important player as well," he says, "and initially funded some $1.1 million in infrastructure out here to get the ball rolling."

Locally, the project came to fruition because of a multi-tiered jurisdictional approach, say officials. Polk County and the three cities agreed to levy property taxes (15 cents/$1,000) that remain in effect today to fund the airport's operation.

Says Searle, "The multi-tiered approach was a key factor in the success of the airport. Otherwise, it probably would have been a difficult thing to get accomplished."

According to Segin, state law allows the independent Polk County Airport Authority, which operates the airport, to levy as much as 27 cents per $1,000 valuation, but a self-imposed limit of 15 cents was enacted when the authority was created.

Comments Dr. Ken Sand, current authority chairman, "With multiple jurisdictions, everybody comes to the table with different interests, but overall it's been good for the area. Altoona has elected to opt out of the authority once the initial bonds are paid off (in 2004). They were a big part of the development and a big part of the initial success, but now as they look at it they probably think it's going to continue without their 15 cents and perhaps they should invest that money elsewhere."


John Peterson, director of community development for the City of Ankeny, credits what he terms a critical mass of civic and business leaders in the region who made the airport and nearby development a reality. "It's benefited the whole northeast portion of the county," he says, "and has spun off a number of other projects, such as the bypass around Des Moines.

"And there continues to be an effort through the city's industrial development corporation as well as a regional group that is representative of communities in the region. We're now in the middle of a major retail power center on the other side of the interstate." In addition, a new exit off Interstate 35 just south of the airport is being prepared.

Adds Segin, "Without the other communities, we would not have had the tax base required, particularly that of Polk County, to make all of this possible. It's been a true partnership, but that kind of development has been the overriding emphasis. That's the reason Polk County got involved and needs to stay involved.

"The new I-35 interchange south of the airport is also a joint project, between the city, county, and state. The land uses there are intended for business. We're just looking to grow this thing out."


The Ankeny Regional Airport officially opened in 1993, and today sports crosswind runways and an ILS. The FBO, Exec 1 Aviation, has some 130 based aircraft, up from 35 just four years ago, and last October was appointed a Cessna new aircraft dealer, which is being headed up by Jeff Denniston, who has been the FBO's general manager for the past five years. The company also has a King Air and two Navajos available for charter, and offers maintenance, aircraft rental, and flight training, with some 70-75 students on average, according to Denniston. He estimates annual revenues at $2.5 million and monthly fuel flow at 25,000 gallons.

Exec 1 is co-owned by local businessman Barney Bushore and attorney Lee Walker.

While the FBO terminal facility was built by the authority and is leased to the FBO on an annual basis, tenants are allowed to retain ownership in other hangar/office facilities. Property leases average 20 years with two five-year options.

John McGlaughlin, the Des Moines weatherman who bases his aircraft at Exec 1, has tracked the airport's development since it opened and says he is continually encouraged by the local support he sees.

"From the media perspective," he says, "and covering the area this entire time, we've been kind of surprised on the lack of public outcry over any particular issues. We've had a lot of businesses interested in the airport, and in fact when the airport was first built the runway was 4,000 feet. But the businesses said they need a longer runway if they're going to bring in their King Airs and Citations, and so now we're at 5,500 feet, plus we have the crosswind and the ILS. And hangar space has become almost non-existent." In turn, new t-hangar construction is now under development.

Exec 1 Aviation is the lone fixed base operation at Ankeny Regional, offering full services, including conference room availability for Polk County and neighboring businesses.


Roy Criss, DOT's first aviation manager
Billboards from the Iowa office of aviation appear in seven cities, carrying the overriding message of economic impact.

ANKENY, IA - In 2000, the Iowa Department of Transportation created a dedicated marketing manager position, which officials say may be the first of its kind in the nation. The intent: promote the economic benefits of airports to Iowans and attract users from outside the state.

Explains Roy Criss, the DOT's first aviation marketing manager, "In 1999, the state legislature asked DOT to bring them suggestions on what the legislature could do to improve the air transportation system in the state. So, the DOT seated some 20 people with different backgrounds and from different industries, called the Committee on Air Service, and delivered several recommendations, one of them being to establish at the state level a marketing position. The 2000 legislature did not move forward with the recommendation, so the DOT took it upon themselves to make do with what they already had."

Criss's annual marketing budget is $175,000, with another $300,000 set aside for an air service marketing program for commercial airports. He says airports use the funds in a variety of ways: radio and TV spots; print ads, brochures; special events; public appreciation days; to hire consultants who specialize in air service development; and even for registration and travel expenses related to marketing seminars.

"What we've tried to do is relax the administrative rules and not be so bureaucratic, and make the guidelines more flexible so the commercial airports can use the money as they see fit. It's not my job to tell Des Moines International how to specifically spend the money."

Marketing initiatives by the office of aviation have included a website that promotes economic impact; television and radio ads during Iowa and Iowa State football games; and a billboard campaign that appears in the seven most populous cities in the state. They promote general aviation airports, as well.

"Our core message," says Criss, "from day one has been economic impact and the use of airports as economic development tools." He has also directed production of a video distributed to civic and business groups to promote the state's airports.