Gary, region airports give lift to economy

2012-12-27T00:00:00Z 2012-12-27T19:54:03Z Gary, region airports give lift to economyBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com
December 27, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Northwest Indiana's airports support at least 1,500 jobs and have an overall economic impact of more than $259 million on the region's economy, according to an Indiana Airports' Economic Impact Study.

The study, compiled by the Aviation Association of Indiana, first examined the impact of jobs located on airports' premises. Then it examined the number of jobs and economic activity that can be attributed to the use of the airport by companies not located there.

“These study results paint a clear picture of the value of Indiana’s airports not only to residents who rely on air travel for business and pleasure, but (also) to the thousands of businesses that rely on airport services to move people and products,” said Bart Giesler, executive director of the Aviation Association of Indiana.

The Indiana Department of Transportation and CONEXUS Indiana, the state's manufacturing and logisitics initiative, assisted in the preparation of the study.

Gary/Chicago International Airport has by far the largest number of jobs on airport premises, 229, and payroll, $16.1 million, of any region airport, according to the study. Major employers there include Boeing Corp., Gary Jet Center and the Indiana National Guard.

The direct economic impact of those airport jobs and businesses was worth $48.1 million to the local economy, according to the study. When spending by airport-based employees in their communities is added in, the total impact soars to $72.5 million.

The Gary airport did not return surveys for companies that use the airport but are not located there, according to the study. So its overall economic impact, including that due to off-airport companies using the airport, could not be calculated.

Porter County Regional Airport offers a good example of how on-airport jobs and payroll are compounded when off-airport businesses that utilize aviation are figured into the equation.

On-airport businesses employ 32 people, while businesses off-airport that use it regularly attribute 47 jobs directly to their use of the aviation facility. That compounds the airport's economic impact from an on-airport figure of $6.5 million to a total impact of $17.3 million.

"We have the potential to create more jobs here at the airport with aviation-related businesses," said Porter County Regional Airport Director Kyle Kuebler. "But the real potential we see for creating jobs is the area around the airport."

Kuebler said nearby Task Force Tips in the Mondale Business Park just across U.S. 30 from the airport is a perfect example of how the airport supports jobs at nearby businesses. The advanced manufacturer of fire-fighting equipment uses its own turboprop plane based at the airport for sales, for transporting engineers and for moving equipment.

The airport is part of the county's "multimodal transportation strategy" for attracting business, Kuebler said. Other transportation facilities include two interstates and other highways in the county, the international port at Burns Harbor, and thee major railroads.

Griffith-Merrillvillle Airport doesn't pop to mind when it comes to major economic drivers in the region, but the 4,900-foot runway off East Main Street has a total economic impact of $54.8 million, according to the Aviation Association of Indiana study.

There are 33 people working at the Griffith-Merrillvillle Airport including flight instructors, aviation mechanics and others. Businesses not located at the airport but regularly using it contribute another 52 jobs to the local economy.

A separate study conducted by the Illinois Department of Transportation pegs Lansing Municipal Airport's total economic impact at $20.6 million. The airport hosts two fixed-base operators, charter flights, flight schools, helicopter services and other businesses.

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