First In Flight


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FIRST IN FLIGHT AIRPORTS ARE ECONOMIC-DEVELOPMENT HUBS I n the late 1990s, Wilmington International Airport was looking to diversify and strengthen its business model, which at the time depended heavily on gate fees from commercial airlines. "We were looking for other revenue streams," says Jim Morton, the airport's finance director. "The answer was land." Today, the 220-acre ILM Airport Business Park shows promise as an economic driver due to its logistical and manufacturing amenities. Businesses there enjoy direct access to the airport as well as a rail line. That same solution has been used as the key to unlock economic potential at airports across the Tar Heel State. North Carolina's 72 publicly owned passenger and general-aviation airports generated nearly $26 billion of economic impact and employed NORTH CAROLINA GLOBAL TRANSPARK about 109,000 people in the state during a 12-month period that started in 2010, according to a study by the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at N.C. State University in Raleigh. "Aviation means big business in North Carolina," says Bobby Walston, manager of statewide plans and programs at the N.C. Department of Transportation's Aviation Division. And all that impact isn't felt just at the airports in the state's major cities. For example, Brunswick County's popularity as a vacation and residential destination has spurred expansion of Cape Fear Regional Jetport near Oak Island. Once little more than a strip of pavement, 260 people now work at the airport, which is undergoing $3.6 million in improvements. Similar investments are being made at airports in Burlington, Concord, Monroe and Statesville. "Communities realize airports are an entry point for business." Business travelers can fly nonstop to 142 destinations daily from Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Goods produced in the region move to their buyers with similar speed via the airport's cargo operations, which handled about 138,000 tons in 2011. That number is set to increase after a 200-acre intermodal-cargo transfer yard at the airport is completed this year. It will replace Norfolk Southern Corp.'s current 40-acre yard near downtown Charlotte and increase annual container capacity from 130,000 "lifts" to 200,000. The Norfolk, Va.-based The North Carolina Global TransPark and the businesses there, including Mountain Air Cargo, top, and DB Schenker, help drive Eastern North Carolina's economy. WILMINGTON INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT railroad is footing most of the $92 million cost, with federal grants paying the balance. The airport will receive $1 million annually in rent during the railroad's 10-year lease. The state owns only one airport, the 2,500-acre North Carolina Global TransPark in Kinston. The announcement of Wichita, Kan.-based Spirit AeroSystems Inc.'s arrival in 2008, which now employs 375 at its manufacturing plant there, has renewed hope that the park will spur the region's economy. Two suppliers have opened since Spirit started operations in 2010: Kinston-based CrateTech NC Inc., which ships Spirit's Airbus A350 XWB parts to St. Nazaire, France, and logistics company DB Schenker, a wholly owned subsidiary of Germany-based Deutsche Bahn AG. The global expansion of the aerospace industry puts a spotlight on the TransPark's multimodal transportation assets, says Tom Bradshaw, executive director of the Global TransPark Authority. "We see great opportunity here for all sorts of aviation businesses." The former state secretary of transportation and Raleigh mayor compares the excitement surrounding Spirit with the energy that swept through Research Triangle Park after IBM arrived there in the mid-1960s. "We've got real momentum now." — D. Lawrence Bivins Developing a business park helped Wilmington International Airport diversify its revenue stream. 8 B U S I N E S S N O R T H C A R O L I N A

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