• Hunter Hall

County CIA committee sees big opportunities in new Aerospace Park

Updated: Feb 28, 2020

(For the Business Journal of Tri-Cities TN/VA)

The Washington County CIA committee voted to publicly look for partners to fund the development at the Tri-Cities Regional Airport on Wednesday, citing hopes for new jobs and business coming to the area.

At this meeting the executive director of the airport, Patrick Wilson, gave an in- depth presentation on the plans for the Aerospace Park. This project will utilize 161 acres of property adjacent to the airport, and promises to use this space to house aerospace businesses and the 5-acre concrete aircraft apron that already stands on the property. This specific location is especially advantageous for aerospace businesses, according to Wilson, because of the proximity to the airport, the access to a public roadway system, and excellent aviation education programs in the region. Additionally, the Southeast United States has become a major area of investment for aerospace companies such as Boeing and GE Aviation.

“We’ve got a good foundation of aerospace industry here already,” Wilson said, going on to show that even in the bleakest projections for the U.S. economy, both the global aircraft fleet and the investments put into that fleet will grow— a good sign for the aerospace industry as a whole, and a signal that this new investment for the Tri-Cities Regional Airport is a prudent one.

“It could be a game changer for the region,” Wilson said about the benefits of this project, assuming that the full 160 acres are developed. The jobs that could come with this project are enticing, promising up to $107 thousand a year for aerospace engineers, and, citing other example locations, Wilson showed considerable economic impact on the area, from labor income to state and federal taxes.

The park does not come without a price tag, however, as it will take $15 million to complete the site grading of the 140 acres that remain to be certified for development. Site grading is the process through which the land that constitutes a site is made level. For the site in question, the main task lies in moving the dirt of a hill on the property into a conveniently sized hole on the property, something much easier said than done.

“Money makes airplanes fly,” said Commissioner Todd Hensley, who is also on the county’s Airport Authority Committee. Wilson laid out several plans on sources for this money, including regional, state and federal grants. Commissioner David Tomita expressed concerns for the timeliness of federal grants, however, and Hensley suggested looking to nearby counties and cities for most assistance.

Fortunately, there are already 21 acres on the land certified for development by the Tennessee Department of Community and Economic Development, and the property also benefits from the Airport’s security system network and a full range of utilities such as electricity, gas, water, and telecommunication.

The Aerospace Park comes after 17 years and over $23 million in development in anticipation of the project, along with renovations to the front of the airport in 2015, including new landscaping and improvements to the airport’s drop-off and pick-up lanes.

The CIA Committee will meet at the Tri-Cities Regional Airport to further discuss the Aerospace Park on Thursday, September 1.

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