By TIM RONALDSON | Business Trends
David Edwards has had a busy first eight months as the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport’s executive director, to say the least.
He has had to deal with the move to a new city – from Asheville Regional Airport in North Carolina, which is about a third of the size of GSP – and was thrown immediately into the mix of three major projects: Revamping and revitalizing the airport terminals, exploring non-aviation related economic development opportunities and expanding airline offerings to compete with both the Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina and the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Georgia.
But GSP’s location as the mid-way point on I-85, what Edwards terms the “growth corridor economically for the future,” is a big advantage, and was an attraction to the job.
“I think this particular airport is a challenge,” Edwards said, “but it also has enormous potential.”
Like all small- to medium-sized airports, Greenville-Spartanburg International is constantly working to lower fares and add new routes. There are currently six airlines that fly into and out of the airport, but Edwards hopes to see one of the “big four” low-fare air carriers – Air Tran, Frontier, Southwest and Jet Blue – join the group within the next five years to bring more competition to the market. The Upstate needs a “very robust, competitive and reliable airport for the future,” Edwards said, one that can build and grow on its already substantial economic impact.
GSP’s position as an economic driver to the Upstate is farther-reaching than most would think. According to an economic impact analysis released last October, GSP provides 3,692 jobs either directly, indirectly or induced, generates more than $112 million in income and is responsible for an output of $377.5 million to the region’s economy.
“I always view the airport as the cog in the engine that is a critical component to economic development in the community,” Edwards said.
The airport employs 828 full- and part-time workers, which through indirect and induced economic activities support an additional 645 local jobs, according to the study, conducted by SYNEVA Economics, LLC. Every job at the airport supports another 0.78 in the community. Visitors also have a drastic impact on jobs, with leisure travelers supporting 1,552 total jobs and business travelers supporting 667.
From an income standpoint, airport employees produce $30.6 million directly and generate $24.7 million in local income. Every dollar of income produced at the airport generates another $0.81 of income in the community, according to the study. Leisure travelers are responsible for $39.4 million in total income, while business travelers are responsible for $17.4 million.
Breaking down the numbers even further emphasizes the importance of attracting more travelers to GSP. According to the study, each passenger generates $86.34 in additional income to the area, and each round-trip flight – with an average of 35 passengers each way – generates $6,044.02.
Currently, the airport is in the midst of a terminal area plan study, which began in the mid-fall/early winter. The commercial terminal facility, which will turn 50 years old in 2012, is being re-evaluated from a functionality standpoint. GSP also is looking with a “very close eye” to the environment and sustainability with regard to renovation and expansion. A recently-opened 5,000-square-foot, fixed-based operator standpoint is a LEED-certified building that will reduce electrical consumption by 30 percent and water consumption by 70 percent, Edwards said.
With the airport’s 3,500 acres of property, there are a lot of economic development opportunities, not just from an airport standpoint. In the next six to nine months, Edwards said GSP will begin a land-use development plan, a well-thought-out process as to what land it needs to preserve for aviation and related services, and what property it has that isn’t conducive to aviation and could be developed for other uses that may need to be close to the airport, either from an employee or cargo perspective.
Edwards, who has worked at smaller airports in Asheville and larger airports in Miami and Orlando, believes Greenville-Spartanburg International’s size will help it pursue these opportunities in a more effective manner.
“I think we’re nimble. I think we’re able to adapt and react very well and quickly to the needs of potential businesses and airlines,” he said. “It provides a great advantage to those that we deal with.”
And Edwards expects to receive the support of the Upstate business community. In his short time here, in speaking to the business community, he said he sees that “they get it.”
“I think this business community, maybe more than others that I’ve been in, really grasps the importance of the airport to the Upstate of South Carolina,” he said. “A very sound airport…is critical for the positive economic development of a community long term.”