Tallahassee business leaders spotlight need for TLH airport to be ‘ready, set, go’

From the Tallahassee Democrat

Airport officials at Tallahassee International Airport have set a $1 billion economic impact goal for the region by 2024.

It currently generates a $599 million economic impact, according to March results from the Florida Statewide Economic Impact Study. The previous five-year study reported the airport’s impact at $399 million.

The lofty goal was shared Tuesday during an open dialogue rooted in advancing the airport, discussing challenges and improving the capital city’s competitive advantage for developing land around it, including a “ready, set, go” approach.

Hosted by the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, the outdoor event took place in the airport hangar at Flightline Group. The discussion was the latest installment to showcase local assets following a recon trip to Greenville, South Carolina, this spring, where business leaders said they wanted to know more about what was in their own backyard.

Many officials said the airport’s goal was realistic considering sustained signs of improvement, including more terminal and infrastructure upgrades and an upswing in air traffic.

“The reason that’s significant is because it contains an inherent commitment by the city and the airport that we are going to do everything we can to move this airport forward in a way that’s going to provide jobs and development within this community,” said David Pollard, who oversees airport operations.

In June, Pollard said the airport recorded a 6.8 percent increase in passenger traffic for year-over-year comparisons. He attributed the increase to a third American Airlines flight to the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in May.

Several efforts are underway to boost the airport’s profile and potentially bring in more revenue, which could offset costs to airlines and drive airfares down. High fare costs, a thorny subject for locals, has prompted passengers to fly out of neighboring airports within driving distance for cheaper prices.

Officials are drafting a 20-year master plan to address development, including a real estate and marketing plan for the airport’s 485 acres.

Presenters at the chamber-hosted event said there’s a critical need to prepare shovel-ready parcels that are primed for development on airport property.

This approach means tackling infrastructure issues, such as stormwater, ahead of when a potential business scouts the airport. The idea is to shave time and challenges that may sabotage the airport’s chances of landing a deal.

“The airport is your economic generator for the region,” Pollard said. “In my 25 years here, I’ve always seen a lot of opportunity and a lot of missed opportunity at this airport. As we press ahead, we intend to collaborate to work with our planners, work with our community and our team to make this the best airport that we can be.”

Rick Moore, CEO of Moore Bass Consulting, made a presentation with commercial real estate expert Ed Murray on the need for speed.

“Economic development is a competitive game,” Moore said. “There are well-planned projects that are the direct competitor to the growth of this airport. The next step after this master planning work is to really invest in improving our competitive positions so we can be ready to turn dirt in 12 months or less.”

The event was attended by Mayor John Dailey and the entire City Commission, with the exception of Commissioner Jeremy Matlow, who was traveling. Several elected officials said they’d be open to committing funding necessary to become a “ready, set, go” airport,” which is not a main focus of the airport’s master plan.

“That’s the right direction, and that’s where we should be planning to move forward,” Dailey said of the new approach. “By the sheer fact that majority of the City Commission, you have a lot of county commissioners and wide representation of the private industry all interested in moving the airport forward, it’s incredible. We’ve got great opportunity ahead of us, and I’m committed to it.”