Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Replacement airport would boost economy


Too often missing from the continuing dialogue about a replacement airport for Friedman Memorial Airport in Blaine County is the astounding economic impact the construction and operation of the new facility will have on the county, the region and the entire state of Idaho.

A fully built replacement airport could cost $325 million, according to the most recent analysis conducted by the economic consultant to the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority. Admittedly, that is a big number. Still, considering the number merely as a cost, rather than as an investment that will provide a long-term payout, is to miss the overall economic importance and impact of the airport project.

Consider for a moment those impacts, both short-term during airport construction and long-term during the year-after-year operations of a new, all-weather, fully compliant airport.

The $325 million construction cost includes more than $108 million in payroll for the 3,450 jobs that will be created by the project. Considering that the total employment in Blaine County at the end of 2010 was just over 11,000, the airport project represents a huge increase in available jobs. It cannot help but have an extremely positive impact on the county's unemployment rate that has stubbornly held close to 9 percent since 2008.

The $325 million project also will create more than $185 million in indirect economic activity, create 1,900 indirect jobs, translating to another $50 million in local payroll. (These estimates are based on the widely used and respected Regional Input-Output Modeling system developed by the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis. This system is designed to help create reliable economic estimates that are specific to particular locations, such as Blaine County.)

Taken together the total direct and indirect economic impact of the replacement airport project is $510 million, with a $158 million payroll and a total direct and indirect employment impact of nearly 5,400 jobs.

Simply put, this will be the largest economic development project ever in Blaine County and one of the more substantial projects in Idaho in many, many years.

It must also be noted that a modern airport is an economic development engine that just keeps on churning. Once operational, a replacement airport in Blaine County will have a $30 million annual economic impact and create 500 permanent jobs. The indirect impact will amount to an additional $19 million and 280 additional jobs. In total, the new airport will generate an annual economic impact of more than $49 million and 780 permanent jobs in the Blaine County area. (The permanent economic impact numbers are based upon estimates of new visitor spending, increased economic activity associated with improved air traffic, and new employment. These numbers were compiled by Transystems Inc., as part of the replacement airport environmental impact statement.)

There are many factors driving the need for a replacement airport for Friedman, including safety, reliability, and the ability to meet current and future capacity. The Federal Aviation Administration has not indicated whether it will continue to make investments at Friedman unless all three issues are addressed, and all three issues can be addressed only at a replacement airport.

The enormous economic benefits associated with the construction and operation of a replacement airport also must be part of the discussion. Not only will the replacement airport address the issues the FAA has identified, it will provide a huge boost to the Blaine County and Idaho economy, creating millions in economic activity and thousands of jobs.

Simply said, building a better airport will build a stronger economy.

Tom Bowman is a Blaine County commissioner and chairman of the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority board. Martha Burke is a member of the Hailey City Council and vice chair of the Friedman board.

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