GOSHEN — The Elkhart and Goshen municipal airports have a rippling economic impact of more than $200 million each year, according to an annual study released Tuesday.
The Indiana Airports Economic Impact Study shows that statewide, public-use airports have a $14.1 billion impact from the people whose jobs are directly connected to the airports and from the money they spend across the state.
The study was a joint effort between the Aviation Association of Indiana, Conexus Indiana and the Indiana Department of Transportation.
“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 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. “This backs our continued assertion that aviation investment by the state creates jobs in the private sector. Airports connect Hoosier businesses to their customers and this connection means jobs.”
This was the first year the statewide study took into account overall economic impact. It used study methods endorsed by the Federal Aviation Administration to figure the impact.
In an announcement of the study’s release, it was explained like this: “The overall economic impact of airports to the state, however, includes more than direct contributions from on-airport and off-airport businesses. When businesses themselves or their employees spend money in the local community to purchase food, pay for child care or entertainment, those dollars are also accounted for in the overall economic impact.”
THE LOCAL NUMBERS
Elkhart’s numbers and Goshen’s numbers are significantly different, but Giesler said that isn’t necessarily because Goshen’s airport has a smaller impact than Elkhart.
Goshen has 38 people employed at the airport, and another 27 by airport users, according to the study. Elkhart has a little more than 64 jobs at the airport, with another 1,035 by airport users.
Factor in the economic ripple effect and the study shows Elkhart’s airport leading to jobs for 1,520 people and Goshen, 93 people.
The study lists Elkhart’s airport as having an overall economic impact of $194.5 million.
Goshen’s, on the other hand, has an economic impact of $11.8 million. Giesler said in the study they erred on the conservative side, “and therefore the report actually underestimates the total impact.”
By comparison, South Bend Regional Airport has more than 470 people working there, another 3,231 working for airport users and an economic impact of $1.72 billion.
Goshen’s airport is the ninth-busiest general-aviation airport in the state, according to Randy Sharkey of the Goshen Air Center.
Giesler said, “I think the biggest difference is that Elkhart was more successful than Goshen in getting tenants to respond to the survey. If we did not receive a survey back, we did not calculate an economic impact. This does not mean that there is not an impact — but rather we did not try to quantify it.”
Sharkey said the low responses from Goshen are because “The corporate clients don’t want to divulge some of the information they ask for” on the surveys.
Still, he thinks the $11.8 million figure may be accurate. “That’s a good number. I’m pleased with that. I think that’s honestly realistic,” Sharkey said. “Anytime you can invest $200,000 into an asset and bring in $11 million to the community, that’s an incredible investment. It just goes to show that general aviation airports are an asset to municipalities.”
While he thought Goshen’s figures were realistic, Sharkey said Elkhart’s and South Bend’s seem extremely inflated, even with a major flight charter service in Elkhart.”For Elkhart to show 194 million is absolutely crazy,” Sharkey said.
Andy Jones, Elkhart’s airport manager, didn’t think Elkhart’s sounded unreasonable, though, just that Goshen’s were too low.
“It’s much more accurate this way than it ever has been in the past,” Jones said. “It’s more in line with what other states are using and what the FAA is using.”
Jones said he suspects the significant disparity between the two large airports in the county — Nappanee’s wasn’t included in the report — is due to too few airport users filling out the surveys in Goshen.
“Goshen’s got a fantastic airport,” Jones said. “Those surveys, you have to hound, you really have to stay after those recipients of those surveys to turn those in.”
He echoed Sharkey’s sentiment, saying for what they bring in, airports are “a relatively small investment. It’s a real bargain. That’s why there are so many communities that have municipal airports.”