BY MELANIE BUCK –
The Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport is experiencing a surge in growth as new hangars are being constructed and businesses are staying busy. With its sizable workforce, payroll and travelers through, the airport generates a very positive economic impact to the local community.
Airport Manager Fred Ogden said the airport currently has 18-20 hangars, many filled with businesses, and it provides around 300 jobs for community members. Not only do employees spend their hard-earned dollars in the community, travelers coming into the county via the airport also bring money to the local economy.
In an Individual Airport Summary Report from 2006 (the latest data available), prepared by the Arkansas State Airport System, the Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport (MEZ) had a total economic impact of $48,544,400. More than $14 million of that was in payroll alone. In the report, the State Airport System explained how the impact is attained. “Through a comprehensive survey process, the direct economic benefits related to on-airport business tenants and the indirect benefits associated with visitor-related expenditures were determined for each system airport. The total economic activity is the sum of all direct (on-airport), indirect (off-airport visitor industry), and multiplier impacts. The study finds that aviation-related businesses located on airports support thousands of jobs and produce billions of dollars of economic impact.” It also said the airport supported 824 jobs at that time, including those on-airport and off-airport jobs, in the local community and throughout other regions.
In that same study, it showed the impact the aviation industry has across the state as well. In 2006, employees in the industry accounted for $1.3 billion in payroll and benefits. When compared with local payroll numbers, Mena’s airport accounts for 1% of aviation payroll and benefits in the state out of 91 airports.
In a 2016 study conducted by Morrison Shipley Engineering Firm, who has consulted with the airport throughout the development of their 40-year Master Plan, the socio-economic factors were outlined. In 2014, MEZ was directly responsible for approximately 3% of jobs in Polk County. In the private sector, it makes up 4% of local jobs. In the City of Mena, the numbers grow to 13%, making up a large portion of the workforce.
Also in Morrison Shipley’s report, they stated, “Airport tenants, businesses and management all indicated that there is substantial current demand to drastically expand business at MEZ. It is estimated that the various businesses would like to add approximately 110 jobs and develop multiple new hangars in the next 5 years at MEZ, through expansion of their current business activities – primarily maintenance, repair, paint, and overhaul services. This growth in employment and aircraft services would have a substantial effect on the local and regional economy, would lead to some increase in the number of aircraft operations, and could possibly increase the number of aircraft.”
The increase is clearly being visible already. Mike Shepard, owner of a Douglas DC-3, is currently in the construction phase of a new hangar to house the transport plane originally built in 1941. The construction is being completed by a local company, sending payroll dollars into local workers’ pockets and, thereby, also into the local economy.
Hampton Aviation, which is located at the airport, is also in the process of building a new hangar. The new 110’ x 125’ hangar will be used for extra room needed by the company that performs maintenance, repairs, and paint jobs on aircraft as well as interior work.
Ogden said that he believes one thing that makes Mena’s airport stand out above other smaller airports is their Instrument Landing System. “A lot of bigger planes require the use of ILS’s. I have seen planes safely land at Mena in rough weather because of the ILS.”
Mena Airport Commissioner Jeff Montgomery added, “Ninety-five percent of all dollars that are brought into the airport by outsiders is spent in the local economy, generating a constant income in our economy. The value of our airport is huge.”
And with their 40-year Master Plan in place and new developments being seen, the value of Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport will continue to grow in the coming years.