BRIDGEPORT — When an entity is enjoying great success, seemingly setting record after record, it’s sometimes easy to see it grow complacent.
You’ve seen it in the sports world, in the business world and from individuals.
For the North Central West Virginia Airport and its adjacent business park, the Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex, complacency hasn’t been a problem.
While the airport and its aerospace park have been booming over the past four-to-five-year period, 2019 may go down as the best ever. That is until next year, or the year after.
And that is why WVNews.com has selected North Central West Virginia Airport and its business partners at the Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex as the Public-Private Development of the Year.
And the best part of the airport’s success in 2019 is that it continues an upward trajectory that won’t come to full fruition until a new terminal is built and as many as five to 10 new buildings are on the campus.
It’s all part of a $70 million planned expansion, which received a big boost when Gov. Jim Justice visited on Aug. 6 to announce a “historic” $20 million investment, with $10 million in grant funding from the state Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council and a $10 million loan from the state Economic Development Authority.
The expansion will come in three phases, with a new terminal and a logistics park being two of the first to move forward. Other parts of the project include extensions of the tarmac and the taxiway.
At the time of the announcement, Justice said it only made sense for the state to be involved, because of the enormous potential.
“There is just real opportunity here,” Justice said. “From a business standpoint, if you create 100 acres of level land at an airport that is accessible all over the place and the interstate right at your back door, you’ve got a winner.”
Justice said the goal was to make the airport “a gateway to West Virginia,” bringing new residents to the region while providing a way for many native sons and daughters to return home.
“This right here is going to do unbelievable things in the future of our great state,” Justice said. “It’s going to do the one thing that makes me the proudest and that is … it makes us as West Virginians hold our heads high. It makes us to know just how great we are.”
The state’s funding has helped jumpstart the expansion, which has been several years in the making.
Rock, who has spearheaded the facility’s tremendous growth, credited the Benedum Airport Authority’s vision, his staff’s commitment and Gov. Justice for helping to drive the project forward.
“Due to the Airport’s incredible growth in both commercial traffic and economic development over the last several years, it became apparent that in order to ride the momentum and further expansion, the airport’s development plans needed to be fast-tracked,” Rock said of the visionary process.
“Our goals are to utilize airport property for its highest and best use, to create a self-sustainable future for the airport and to expand jobs and opportunities for West Virginians, so we approached the governor about our vision and he immediately saw what benefits it would provide our entire state.
“It was an impossible task for the airport to do alone so the governor committed to support it in a major way. Without that commitment, the project is not possible,” Rock said.
Harrison County Commissioner Ron Watson, who serves as the president of the airport authority, said the projects will further the airport’s strong presence in the economy of not only North Central West Virginia, but the entire state.
“We’ve come a long way in the 18 years I’ve been involved with the airport authority,” Watson said, reflecting back to leaner times, especially when the aftermath of 9/11 saw air travel numbers plummet.
“Sometimes I don’t think the public understands the economic impact, in excess of $1 billion annually, that the airport and those businesses bring to our region,” Watson said.
“But it’s like any other business, we have to make it advantageous for the companies and for us. That’s what the expansion will do.”
Bridgeport Mayor Andy Lang and Harrison Commissioner David Hinkle have been involved with the planning process and have said the goal is to provide more space, not only for a terminal, but for more businesses.
“We’re trying to give (North) Central West Virginia a platform for growth that we don’t presently have, so it’s a big deal to develop what we’re doing with the airport,” Hinkle said, adding that the goal is to provide space for “a million square feet of buildings.”
While the expansion project alone is award worthy, it hasn’t been the only positive development at NCWV Airport and the business park.
Earlier in June, the sale of Bombardier to Mitsubishi was announced. While sometimes the sale of a company can bring concern, it’s been noted that the local facility is well-respected for its quality work and is expected to be a key part of the new company once the deal closes sometime in 2020.
The investment in the Bridgeport facility, which will enable the local operation to service the company’s market-leading PW814GA and PW815GA engines used in Gulfstream G500 and G600 aircraft, solidifies Pratt & Whitney’s place as a strong economic and community leader.
It will lead to the additional employment of 50 new hires, while shoring up the current workforce and shows a long-term commitment, according to Tracy Miller, president of the Mid Atlantic Aerospace Complex.
“Today’s announcement is one that makes your heart full and not something you see every day,” Miller said after the early December announcement.
“West Virginia and Pratt & Whitney have been partners for years, and this investment solidifies their commitment to West Virginia, their future in the state and great jobs for West Virginians for many generations to come.”
Miller said the company has been a great partner, and the new investment demonstrates that commitment will continue.
“It touched my heart that they were looking out for the future of the state, making sure that there are jobs for people that want to stay in West Virginia,” she said. “This is going to solidify current jobs and future growth in the state to come. I think this sets a precedent in the aviation industry as a whole and makes West Virginia even more competitive in the aviation (field).”
Rock said the airport’s success continues to grow because of companies like Pratt & Whitney, as well as the reliable air service now available.
“In 2019 we received our updated economic impact report and in five years it has grown by $50 million, for a total annual impact of $1.1 billion. As we looked to the future, we knew that new programs and new investments were needed to maintain and increase our impact and carry our aerospace industry over the next 30 years,” Rock said.
“Pratt and Whitney’s announcement to transition into the PW 800 engine program will do just that. It is an extraordinary commitment from Pratt and Whitney and a testament to the quality craftsmanship and work ethic of the West Virginia workforce.”
As for air travel, the airport is again approaching record numbers, which could be announced shortly after the first of the year.
The all-time record of 42,128 was within reach, but hinged on how well the final two weeks of December played out.
Rock said whether the all-time number is reached or not, the airport administration, board and staff are excited by the growth and thankful for their loyal passengers and businesses.
“With four destinations and two exceptional airline partners such as United and Allegiant, our airport has positioned ourselves to effectively meet the transportation needs of North Central West Virginia,” Rock said.
“With the support of our customers and employees, we are on the verge of our best year ever. We want them to know we appreciate them very much.”