EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of a series that explores issues related to the proposed expansion of the Greensburg airport. Please read this week’s issues of the Greensburg Daily News for more stories in the series.

GREENSBURG — Marc Coplon, the local economic development guru, knows first-hand that transportation infrastructure — highways, rail, airports — affect a community’s ability to attract jobs.

Coplon spent many years in the South, in Dayton, Tennessee, for example, a city about the size of Greensburg, where a larger airport helped the community attract the largest La-Z-Boy plant in America.

La-Z-Boy officials were flying to another destination in Tennessee in the 1970s to scout the area for a potential production facility when one of the passengers suggested they stop in Dayton. The executives were so impressed by the city that they never flew to their original destination and decided to build a plant in Dayton instead, said Airport Manager Wanda Fulmer.

La-Z-Boy is the county’s largest employer still today, with about 1,800 workers, and executives use the airport to visit customers and suppliers, Fulmer said. Other companies, too, use the airport for corporate flights, and some also for delivery of products or receiving raw materials.

Coplon said he expects the planned expansion of the Greensburg airport to also boost the local economy.

Airport and city leadership — of both political parties — share Coplon’s assessment and support the planned local expansion, which would cost about $17 million. The federal government would pay about 90 percent of the cost, with the state and the city of Greensburg each chipping in 5 percent.

The local expansion primarily would focus on adding a larger runway. The airport’s existing runway, at 40 feet wide and 3,433 feet long, is too small for all but small single- and twin-engine planes, said Jon Dooley, president of the Greensburg Municipal Airport board.

The proposed runway would be 5,405 feet long and 100 feet wide, which would allow business jets and light-to-medium cargo aircraft.

Before construction can commence, the Federal Aviation Administration needs to complete its environmental assessment, which is expected to be filed this year. Another major hurdle: Most land owners on whose property the runway is planned oppose the project.

But for Coplon, Dooley, Republican Mayor Gary Herbert and Democratic City Councilman Glenn Tebbe, the need for the expansion is clear: Better transportation infrastructure, they say, will improve the city’s chances to land more employers and better jobs for the next generations.

The Greensburg airport, since the 1940s, has sat near State Road 46 on the southwestern edge of the city. Covering about 32 acres, the airport has one full-time employee and two part-timers employed by the city, plus two independent mechanics.

Thirty-six aircraft are based at the airport, Dooley said, and about 27 times per day a plane takes off or lands. In crop duster season, landings/take-offs can spike to 120, and on icy winter days, they may drop to zero.

Hangar rentals and fuels sales generate enough revenues to cover the operational expenses of the 32-acre property, such as mowing, roof repair, insurance and personnel. The airport board members are appointed by the mayor. The airport’s budget is approved by the Greensburg City Council.

The city has owned the property since December 2007. Before that, city and county governments each paid $10,000 annually to maintain the airfield and runway.

Dooley said he expects the new runway to be operational probably before 2020. He used to be more specific and optimistic, but the FAA assessment is taking a long time.

Dooley said the proposed expansion dates back to the early part of the millennium and the administration of Mayor Gary Bailey. The basic idea: Better access to Greensburg will make more businesses consider the city for a facility. More facilities mean millions of investments and more jobs for local residents.

Even if local residents do not use the larger runway, they will see a benefit from it, much like they don’t use the local rail lines, but see benefits from it because it supports employers such as Honda, Dooley said.

"I think it's good for the community,” he said.

Herbert said that he knows from his experience in the manufacturing industry that the ability to quickly get supplies is critical to maintain schedules and avoid temporary production shutdowns.

Coplon agreed, saying that it makes sense that an employer whose machine breaks down can get a replacement part more quickly by air than by truck or rail.

A larger local airport could be attractive to employers who need to fly in their supplies, Herbert said, but it also would help companies fly their executives to board or customer/supplier meetings.

“There are just all sorts of opportunities there,” Herbert said.

Without the larger airport, some companies that are looking for a place for a production facility may eliminate Greensburg from contention immediately, without local officials even knowing about it, Herbert said.

Communities compete for investments, and Greensburg needs all the advantages it can get, the mayor said.

Airports themselves mean big business for Indiana, according to an economic impact study from 2012. The study, commissioned by state agencies including the Indiana Department of Transportation, and the Aviation Association of Indiana, said that the state’s airports support nearly 70,000 jobs with a payroll of $4.1 billion for a total economic output exceeding $14 billion.

“General aviation and community airports play a critical role in the lives of our citizens, as well as in the operation of our businesses and farms,” said then-Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Tebbe, too, said he has supported the airport expansion for many years because it provides additional transportation alternatives, especially for businesses.

“Making alternatives available … is a key to supporting the businesses we have … as well as potential new business,” Tebbe said.

Throughout the process, the city has interviewed officials at other airports and economic development agencies, Tebbe said, and they all said the expansion makes sense.

Herbert said that, in the end, change sometimes hurts some people — in this case landowners who may be unwilling to part with their property — but benefits the entire community. When the interstate was thrust upon the community in 1963, it divided the community as much as it divided farm fields, which had to make way for the construction.

But the community benefited and is still benefiting from access to that interstate, Herbert said. A larger airport will similarly boost economic development and will allow the community to offer more jobs for local families, he said.

Contact: Boris Ladwig 812-663-3111 x7401; boris.ladwig@greensburgdailynews.com.

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