Revelations earlier this month the Gary/Chicago International Airport was experiencing large cost overruns on a crucial runway expansion project came as unwelcome news to an effort a long time in coming. But a study outlined in The Times on Thursday business section by reporter Keith Benman gives reason for optimism -- and illustrates the importance of continuing to build on the airport as a potential economic engine.
The study, compiled by the Aviation Association of Indiana, shows that Northwest Indiana regional airports support at least 1,500 jobs and have an overall economic impact of more than $259 million on local economies.
Bart Giesler, executive director of the association, noted the study "paints a clear picture of the value of Indiana's airports, not only to residents who rely on air travel for business and pleasure, but to the thousands of businesses that rely on airport services to move people and products."
We couldn't agree more. The Gary/Chicago airport alone provides 239 on-site jobs, generates $16.1 million in payroll and has an overall economic impact of at least $48.1 million, according to the study. The study further notes that when spending by airport-based employees in their communities is factored in, the impact rises to $72.5 million.
And if the airport continues to grow as it should -- and as is planned -- the fiscal impact can only become larger and more beneficial to our region.
Despite the recent cost overrun snafus, The Gary airport board voted earlier this month to approve a grant agreement with the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, providing a $30 million boost toward its plan to lengthen the main runway to accommodate larger planes.
It's regrettable the project's total cost has soared to $166 million from the original $90 million estimate, largely because of the needed railroad improvement projects related to the runway expansion. We still maintain that better negotiations should have been incorporated by the airport.
However, if the current economic impact numbers are any litmus test, the cost and long-running effort for runway expansion should pay off in the end. The airport scored a victory earlier this year when the first Allegiant airline flight took off from Gary, headed to Orlando/Sanford International Airport.
Airport officials must now stay the course to ensure the economic engine keeps on growing.