Rowan business leaders in Washington to talk about airport, economic development

  • Posted: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 12:42 a.m.
    UPDATED: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 12:43 a.m.

By Emily Ford

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rowan County business leaders in Washington, D.C. for the N.C. Business and Economic Development Summit will meet today with the Federal Aviation Administration to pitch a $10.4 million improvement project at the Rowan County Airport.

Airport Director Thad Howell, along with representatives from the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission, will ask the FAA to help pay for a 500-foot runway extension, which would cost $7.2 million, as well as a runway overlay project with a $3.2 million price tag.

The improvements, along with the airport’s other perks, would help bring more corporate jets and economic development to Rowan County, advocates said.

The Rowan delegation is scheduled to present the airport improvement plan to Brian Langdon, manager of the FAA Office of Government and Industry Affairs. U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican who represents Rowan and Cabarrus counties, helped set up the meeting.

Howell said he will ask Langdon for federal dollars to extend the airport’s runway by 500 feet to the north, as well as a crown-and-groove overlay that would improve the runway’s surface.

“We would certainly welcome anything that they can provide,” Howell said.

The FAA has a discretionary fund, he said.

Howell said he doesn’t know when the FAA will make a decision, but he’d like to start on the runway extension next summer.

Chamber President Elaine Spalding said the airport has a strong business plan. Because the airport is outside Charlotte airspace, corporate jets can get in an out more quickly than at airports closer to Charlotte, she said.

The Rowan County facility also boasts competitive fuel prices, no landing fees, less-than-average ground lease rates and no commercial operator fees, according to the county’s presentation.

The county is constructing a 15,000-square-foot hangar available for lease, and the airport boasts 117 acres of land available for new business, hangar and terminal development.

Rowan County successfully led an effort earlier this year to have the airport removed from the Salisbury city limits.

Spalding said the runway extension is important for recruiting new businesses but also to help existing businesses grow.

While the airport tops Rowan County’s federal funding wish list, business leaders are pitching other projects as well to North Carolina congressional elected officials and key congressional staffers.

The list includes:

• Three road projects: Build an interchange at Interstate 85 and Old Beatty Ford Road, complete widening between N.C. 152 and N.C. 73 and complete the interchange at I-85 and N.C. 152.

• N.C. Transportation Museum

• Workforce training at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College

• Film industry

• Entrepreneurial development

Pete Teague, chairman of the EDC, said delegation members are also talking to federal officials about the Dunbar Center in East Spencer.

“We are looking to see if there is help from someone to make that into something that would be really good for East Spencer and all of Rowan County,” Teague said. “That facility means lot to people historically, and we want to see if we can put it to good use.”

Cindy Hart, chairwoman of the chamber, said she was encouraged to hear updates on the state’s film industry that could impact Rowan County, as well as confirmation that high-speed fiber-optic networks like Fibrant are the “wave of the future.”

Fibrant is the city of Salisbury’s new broadband utility, which has struggled with reliability and high costs. But Hart said she remains optimistic about the city’s decision.

“Communities that have that high-speed, fiber-optic capability will be the ones attracting the jobs,” she said.

The chamber and RowanWorks Economic Development organized the two-day trip to Washington.

Members of the Rowan County delegation are Spalding, Howell, Hart, Teague, chamber Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Greg Edds and EDC Executive Director Robert Van Geons.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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