North Carolina's public airports contribute $52 billion to the state's economy every year, according to the state Department of Transportation, and in the process support 307,000 jobs, $12.6 billion in personal income and $2.2 billion in state and local tax revenues.
In short, aviation is an underrated pillar in the state's economy. While major hubs like Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte bring in plenty of commercial traffic, regional airports like Raleigh Executive Jetport are opening the door for smaller counties to get in on the action.
"General aviation airports are probably one of the most undervalued economic development tools in today's global economy. As a business, you've got to have quick access to your markets, and general aviation and commercial service airports provide that access," said Daniel Findley, a senior research associate at North Carolina State University's Institute for Transportation Research and Education. "Most companies won't consider an area unless it has a nearby airport. A place like Raleigh Executive is perfectly positioned to serve the Triangle and surrounding markets."
Thanks to the amenities and facilities that Raleigh Exec provides, the airport opens Lee County and the surrounding Triangle region up to a more global market.
In his role as the executive director at Research Triangle Regional Partnership, Ryan Combs's primary goal is to market the Triangle region and its 12 counties to external markets. Regional airports play a key role in achieving that goal — especially as traffic at RDU increases year-by-year.
"We're running out of gates and space for planes to take off and land. That's only going to benefit our regional airports greater, and we've already started to see the effects of that," said Combs. "For the private sector, time is money. It's a lot easier for executives, vendors, and suppliers who have business in the area to use these regional airports and be in and out. Plus, Downtown Raleigh is only around 30 minutes away [from Raleigh Exec]."
The five regional airports in the Triangle area already contribute around $359 million annually in economic output, as well as $14.5 million in state and local taxes. Findley's department found Raleigh Exec alone supported more than 400 jobs in the community — and that growth will continue to have a domino effect in the area, already generating $2.376 million in state and local taxes and an economic input of over $61 million.
According to Combs, with major companies like Audentes, Bharat Forge and Pfizer all recently announcing their move to the area, they'll be bringing in an additional 1,100 jobs and $780 million to Lee County. This move, along with some massive potential projects currently in the pipeline, signals a major investment in both Raleigh Exec and the county.
"If we get one large company that does manufacturing and brings in a couple thousand jobs, all of a sudden that's going to bring in suppliers. It's a trickle-down effect, and before you know it, the airports have to build new hangers and see tons more people using the space to fly in and out," said Combs. "Another thing is real estate. Once it's all said and done, the new Chatham Park community will add tens of thousands of homes to the community and 1.2 million square feet of office space, and a technology corridor with a medical campus. It's going to be the next Holly Springs or Apex, and Raleigh Exec is going to help support that growth."
In generating so much economic activity for a more rural area like Lee County, Raleigh Exec plays a major role in preserving and improving the county. In fact, according to Findley, based aircraft generates approximately $350,000 in property tax annually. This amount is the equivalent of generating the county portion of teacher's salaries for 80 teachers.
As the Triangle region continues to grow and aviation becomes more of a necessity, both Findley and Combs anticipate Raleigh Exec flourishing in its role as an economic engine.
"General aviation airports are not as prominent as an airport like RDU, but they're huge for the business community — both supporting these businesses and providing jobs that are in our community and connecting the two," said Findley. "You see the Triangle growing and businesses are moving in here. I think that speaks well for Raleigh Exec, and it's very well positioned to continue serving the aviation community and the local economy."
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