Airport’s International Processing Facility to bring unseen global access to capital city

From the Tallahassee Democrat

A $28-million capital investment to Tallahassee’s airport is expected to unlock international access for travelers and economic development.

In a few years, residents will be able to book non-stop flights overseas, including charter, business or general aviation flights. Some could include flights to the Caribbean, Central and South America and Canada.

The International Processing Facility is arguably one of the most vital projects in the airport’s recent history. Nearly 10 years in the making and now under construction, airport officials say the facility plows a new path toward what’s possible.

“We have some destinations that we certainly are very interested in,” said David Pollard, aviation director at Tallahassee International Airport.

Yet Pollard said there’s a bigger picture, one where the airport is poised to spur a $1 billion economic impact for Tallahassee and the region, and create an estimated 1,600 new jobs.

“It’s not just international flights or travelers,” Pollard said. “It’s bringing customs into this community and, as we move forward, we’ll be developing the Foreign Trade Zone.”

The airport’s transformation in recent years includes a streak of infrastructure and cosmetic improvements to the terminal, along with more efforts to promote and prepare property in and around the airport for development.

In two years, the International Processing Facility that will include an on-site federal customs and immigration services office, will be the airport’s next big step toward new economic heights.

Runway to global status

A series of incremental steps has led to this historic moment for Tallahassee’s airport.

In 2014, the airport dropped “regional” from its name and became the Tallahassee International Airport, a move that triggered praise from supporters who saw it as the airport’s attempt to reposition its economic impact.

Others ridiculed the name change, since the airport doesn’t accommodate international travel.

Yet, the same year, the airport was inching toward a global future with work behind the scenes to bring an International Processing Facility able to handle international travel and commerce to the capital city’s airport.

As Tallahassee’s airport sees a rise in passenger traffic, officials believe the processing facility will have a significant impact.

So far this year, passenger traffic at Tallahassee’s airport has recovered to levels before the COVID-19 pandemic grounded travel two years ago. First quarter 2022 shows 184,927 passengers — a 93.9% increase compared to the same time last year.

The International Processing Facility is slated to be complete by 2024. Once it is, officials said the airport’s $599 million economic impact in Tallahassee and the region is projected to reach $1 billion.

“We’re looking to really increase that, increase jobs and increase job diversification and make things more competitive in this region,” Pollard said. “It’s really several things all wrapped up in one that are really working to make this much bigger difference in this part of Florida.”

Private sector impact

Companies throughout Tallahassee and the region see the processing facility as a means to improve their operations and global reach.

Danfoss Turbocor, the world’s leader in oil-free compressors, ships parts to its service centers around the world from its Tallahassee manufacturing headquarters and depends heavily on international logistics with its suppliers.

The large compressors are sent through shipping containers. However, Danfoss President Riccardo Schneider said the company ships smaller subcomponents and parts, and he predicts the facility’s ability to move those goods by air will reduce a week of logistics to a few days.

“So there is a lot of benefit of this local set-up for having international capabilities to handle shipments from suppliers,” Schneider said.

The airport also is poised to become a Foreign Trade Zone, which allows companies to avoid import and export fees when shipping products.

In 2016, the city began pursuing a path toward making the airport property into a Foreign Trade Zone, according to the airport’s 2019 master plan.

“This would provide a site where ‘new facilities, jobs, and businesses could be fostered without being subject to high import/export fees,’ ” the report said. “Those actions highlight the path moving forward for the airport and this Master Plan Update — to be able to capitalize on opportunities that will make TLH into a broader facility for air travel, business development, and trade.”

It’s another building block toward the airport’s goal of reaching a $1 billion economic impact.

In addition, the airport has nearly 500 acres on seven parcels that can be developed for aviation and non-aviation developments. Potential uses include access to runways, freight and logistics, commercial, flight training and manufacturing.

“The airport is actively working on several exciting developments and projects that will position us to meet our strategic priority to “Lease 100 acres of land by 2024,” Pollard said.

“Economic development is a competitive game”

For years, local business leaders have stressed the need to maximize the airport’s economic development.

The Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce hosted trips to Boulder, Colorado, in 2015 and Greenville, South Carolina, in 2019. Both trips featured tours and in-depth discussions about aviation operations and development opportunities at larger airports.

A who’s who of elected officials, business owners, policy-makers and higher education leaders had a collective view of what’s possible and how the airport may help Tallahassee become more competitive.

“Economic development is a competitive game, and we must continue to layer the assets and the benefits of why our market would be a location that companies would want to be,” said Sue Dick, the chamber’s president and CEO.

Dick, who’s served on the airport’s advisory committee for 20 years, said she remembers when locals used to call the airport the “Pizza Hut” building.

In the early 1980s, Dick was a college student at Florida State University. She said travelers walked from the airport’s main building, where the aviation company Flightline Group Inc. is currently located next door to the main terminal, to get on planes.

“We used to literally park your car, walk in, go through and walk out to a runway,” Dick said, adding the airport has come a long way. “I think the statement we make is as Florida’s capital city, we have pushed ourselves truly as a community to recognize how important it is for our city, but really our region, to be represented in more of a global way.”

Dick said the business community is buzzing about the impact of the International Processing Facility and more people are starting to understand Tallahassee’s role in the international space.

She said business leaders understand the importance of growing the airport’s business model and how that can lead to more jobs and a stronger local economy.

“When I hear from other businesses, these individuals travel a lot and they see other airports and facilities, and they know we have an asset that we have to continue to maximize utilize,” Dick said. “They’re excited.”

Contact TaMaryn Waters at or follow @TaMarynWaters on Twitter.