Thursday, November 10, 2011

South Carolina: Jasper County officials look outside the Lowcountry for airport plans

Jasper County officials are looking to other areas of the state for inspiration and advice on using airport services to attract business and industry to the Lowcountry.

County Council members flew Tuesday from the Hilton Head Island Airport to airports in Rock Hill and Greenville to receive presentations on airport design, development and operations. The trip was sponsored by the S.C. Aeronautics Commission, which provided a nine-seater turboprop used for state business.

"If I had not seen what I saw yesterday, I could not conceptualize what could materialize in our area," County Council Chairman LeRoy Blackshear said Wednesday. "Being able to see that gave me a broader view of what could actually happen -- how profitable and beneficial it could be to our region."

A 2,700-foot runway in Ridgeland provides limited service to recreational aircraft and is marginally safe, said Paul Werts, executive director of the S.C. Aeronautics Commission. Three times in the past 10 years, the county has studied possible sites for a new airport with a runway of at least 5,000 feet.

An elementary school near the end of the Ridgeland airport's runway restricts expansion. Jasper County is negotiating with a landowner for a site to build a larger airport near Ridgeland. Two other unidentified properties also are being considered, county administrator Andrew Fulghum said.

But no decision has been made on airport plans.

Officials said they were struck by the economic disparity between airport infrastructure and investment in Rock Hill and Greenville when compared to Beaufort and Jasper counties.

Blackshear said he was particularly impressed by the 2,600-acre business and industrial park tied to the 8,000-foot runway at Donaldson Center Airport in Greenville.

The former Air Force base was developed into what eventually became the S.C. Technology & Aviation Center, which boasts tenants such as IBM, 3M, Michelin and Lockheed Martin. A 2010 report estimates that the center has contributed $1.4 billion to the local and state economies, employing 3,300 with a payroll of $218.8 million and an economic output of $928.9 million.

Many decisions remain, but Tuesday's trip made clear the potential jobs and income a new airport could generate, Blackshear said.

"What we saw was the potential to attract business and industry outside of airport operations and activities. That's something we need to study," he said.

http://www.islandpacket.com

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