A Tale of Two Airports, or How Aviation Makes a Difference

Recent HN newsletter articles (June 2014 and August 2014) described the marked difference in attitudes toward local airports that exist in Bloomington, IL, and Santa Monica, CA.

Among other topics, this blog will begin an ongoing discussion of those attitudes with the idea that we in the aviation industry may learn valuable lessons about how to better interact with local governments and the community at large in ways that portray aviation and related operations as economic and community benefits, rather than an annoyance or worse.

And depending on how the situation in Santa Monica plays out, we may also learn how to be more effective in advocating for our industry and our passion.

In this installment we’ll look first at Bloomington, which is serviced by the Central Illinois Regional Airport (CIRA or FAA identifier BMI). Here, residents and civic leaders alike see the continued and even expanded airport operations as an engine helping to drive economic development in the region.

CIRA

In the spring of 2014, the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council sought to extend the McLean County enterprise zone by 1,300 acres (about 2 square miles) to the airport property. Enterprise zones are tools used to encourage economic development through incentives which in this case include exemption from state sales tax on building materials and higher Illinois investment tax credits.

Ken Springer, EDC vice president, said, “Economies thrive based on their assets, and CIRA is an asset. Anything we can do to nurture that is going to benefit the rest of the community.”

Springer also says that the move is part of a larger project to generate growth and development around CIRA, with the intention of attracting warehousing, logistics, and transportation companies.

CIRA executive director Carl Olson said the enterprise zone would help the airport generate new investments, grow jobs, and grow revenue in addition to taxes. “This better positions us for long-term success,” he said.

Airport Authority chairman Aaron Quick said, “Anything we can do to leverage our assets and keep our infrastructure at the highest level but cheapest cost to airlines keeps us attractive.

The proposed expanded enterprise zone includes the area being developed for a FedEx Express distribution and sorting facility. For an average construction or renovation project, the enterprise zone would save 3 to 5 percent of the total project cost.

The expansion of the enterprise zone requires approval from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the Illinois Department of Revenue, and five local governments: the cities of Bloomington, Normal, and Gibson City, and McLean and Ford counties.

Thus we see that both civic leaders and residents here welcome and encourage aviation and related activities. They recognize that aviation is a vital component of the transportation and shipping industry, helping to move not only passengers but products and goods that depend on reliable means to get to their destinations. They also see that all residents and businesses in the region stand to reap the benefits of economic growth, more jobs, and an overall higher standard of living.

In a future installment we’ll revisit CIRA and hopefully have good news to report on the expansion proposal. We’ll also update you on the situation at Santa Monica Airport (SMO), where some civic leaders seem to be paying more attention to a vocal minority who favor closing the airport.

Mike Straka, PhD
HN Staff Writer & Technical Support
Vice Chairman, Colorado Aviation Business Association