Harnett County Commissioners Lew Weatherspoon and W. Brooks Matthews welcomed U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08) to the jetport on Wednesday, Sept. 8, for a firsthand look at what its needs are moving forward and how to pay for the necessary upgrades.
When the county assumed operational control of the local jetport, commissioners viewed the hub as a key to unlocking future economic development.
In order for the Harnett County Jetport to play such an important role it needs funding, particularly from the federal government. One way to attract such funding is by going to the people in charge of the purse strings.
Commissioners Lew Weatherspoon and W. Brooks Matthews welcomed U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08) to the jetport on Wednesday afternoon for a firsthand look at what its needs are moving forward and how to pay for the necessary upgrades.
“Harnett County has so many things going for it when it comes to economic development: the abundance of water, the proximity to the interstate, you’ve got can-do elected officials and you’ve got this airport,” Hudson said. “Airports are critical for the kind of economic development that we’re looking for and to bring in the kind of jobs we want to bring.”
For the jetport to get on par with comparable facilities across the state, lengthening and widening runways is crucial. Estimates from nearly a decade ago priced expanding the runway to 5,500 feet at more than $17 million. The runway also needs to be widened by at least 100 feet, and preferably by 125 feet, if the jetport hopes to attract the kind of airplanes used by corporate executives who may want to visit the area in hopes of identifying possible investment opportunities.
“The growth of the airport, we think that will be a driving force for economic development growth,” said Weatherspoon. “We know there are people who would put planes here if we had a hangar for them. They would be people who would possibly move a business here or own a business and would come here. We’ve got to have our runway extended to bring in the larger jets. You can bring them in but they take off light because they can’t take off with a full load. That’s what we’re hoping to do.”
While growth is happening all across Harnett County, Hudson said it’s important to attract the right kind of growth to the area. Additional rooftops do little to generate the necessary revenue needed to provide basic services like public education. Renovations to the jetport can lead to increased property taxes as well as more exposure to economic development.
“The question is what kind of growth do you want and can you plan for that and prepare for that and attract that?” Hudson posited. “What we want are good-paying jobs and the kind of companies that bring those jobs want to have their execs flying in on bigger planes. There’s no question. You see it all across the state. A lot of communities that have invested in its airports are seeing the economic development follow. To grow the kind of jobs you want, these corporations have got to be able to bring in their executives on larger airplanes.
“You have to a have a certain length and width of runway, you’ve got to have hangar space and those are the things we need to upgrade here to really compete on the level we want to compete on.”
Commissioners would like to see the jetport become a center for economic development with increased office space and new hangars.
“If we could get [the runway extended], the rest of it would come,” said Jerry Milton, president of the jetport committee. “A runway expansion would be beneficial to all.”
Hudson said new hangars could create a “build it and they will come” scenario, and being able to find funding is knowing where to look.
“The federal government funds a large portion of what the state spends on roads and airports,” Hudson said. “It’s a big responsibility to make sure we get that right and directing that money to the right places. You want to go to communities where you have partners in local government so you know these projects can be successful. There are a number of grant programs that we may qualify for. I’m going to go back and do my homework and see if there are some opportunities.”
Weatherspoon said it was important to speak with Hudson face-to-face and let him see what the needs are.
“We know there is money available from the federal government,” said Weatherspoon. “We’re just trying to explore what is available and what we can get.”
Eliot Duke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 910-230-2038.