The local airport substantially stimulates the local economy, according to an economic impact study recently released by the Georgia Department of Transportation.
Funded by the FAA, the DOT study reviewed operations of Georgia’s entire airport system of 104 publicly owned, public-use airports, including nine commercial service airports, such as Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, and 95 general aviation airports, such as LaGrange-Callaway Airport.
The study found the state’s airports “essential to Georgia’s transportation and economic infrastructure” in that they support 471,175 jobs and $62.6 billion in statewide economic impact.
Locally, according to the study, LaGrange-Callaway Airport “plays a vital role in supporting the region” with creation of 72 jobs with an annual payroll of $2,756,700, and a total of $8.7 million in economic output for local and regional economies.
“LaGrange-Callaway Airport plays a role in supporting major employers in the area such as Caterpillar, Johnson Controls, ExxonMobil, Duracell, Interface, Walmart and Milliken,” according to the report, which also noted the airport’s support of aerial agricultural operations, law enforcement flights, military exercises and training, aerial photography and surveys, real estate tours and medical flights.
In addition, according to the DOT’s report: “The airport is active in the community and supports events such as a monthly pancake breakfast fly-in hosted by the local pilots association, which attracts several dozen attendees. The terminal building’s conference room is commonly used by community organizations for meetings. LaGrange-Callaway Airport proves to be a popular gateway for visitors to area attractions such as West Point Lake and Callaway Gardens.”
Regular visitors to the airport also enjoy its ameninites. Larry Grondziak of Brooksville, Fla., flies into LaGrange four times a year on his way to visit family in Indianapolis, Ind. The retired FAA electrical engineer said the LaGrange-Callaway Airport has never let him down.
While most who fly in and out of the local airport are on business, Grondziak is a retiree taking leisure trips, a pilot whose path from Point A to Point B often puts him over Troup County at just about the time he’s ready for a break.
“They tell old men not to fly all the way through – to stop, walk around, get some circulation in your legs – so I make two stops between Florida and Indiana,” said Grondziak. “The atmosphere is always welcoming here. The fellow at the counter smiles and speaks with that wonderful Georgia accent. If I have a problem, there’s immediate, personable service.”
After a 37-year career with the Federal Aviation Administration, Grondziak looks for more than good personalities in an airport, though. An electrical engineer who maintained instrument landing systems at traffic control towers all over the United States, Grondziak can speak to the quality of service, equipment and technology at the local airport on Lukken Industrial Drive.
“The runways are fine – good and smooth,” said Grondziak on a recent summer afternoon, just before he flew out toward Indiana. “The electronics work well and the weather broadcasting communications are excellent, well maintained and plenty loud. At a lot of airports this size, only half of the stuff is working. I’ve never had that happen here in LaGrange. Everything’s always good here.”
“That’s what we like to hear,” said Roy Spinks, chairman of the Troup County Airport Authority, which oversees operations at LaGrange-Callaway Airport. Along with Spinks, the seven-member authority includes Charles Milligan, Glenn Morrow, Chris Tucker, Gene Schaufler, Ross Hoffman and Joe Fagundes. All agree that the local airport has been and remains essential to the economy and development of LaGrange and Troup County.
“Towns fight for the type of airport facilities that serve our community,” said Spinks. “Troup County and LaGrange would have never had the industrial growth and economic development they have enjoyed over the past 35 years if the airport had not been so conveniently located to the industries.”
The local airport originated as an airfield almost 100 years ago. Modernized in the 1940s, the airport mostly served area textile mills for two decades following World War II. The Callaway Foundation eventually donated the airport to Troup County and the city of LaGrange, and in 1977 the Troup County Airport Authority was established. For the past 35 years, the city, county and authority have worked together to develop the airport which, in turn, helped grow LaGrange and Troup County, Spinks said.
“They say, ‘Build a mile of highway, and it takes you a mile down the road. Build a mile of runway, and it’s a gateway to the world,’” said Spinks. “It is true. We literally have people from all over the world flying in and out of here.”
Spinks estimated that 90 percent of industries that have located in LaGrange and Troup County formed their first impression of the community at the airport.
“The state of Georgia flies business and industry prospects here and they meet with community leaders at the terminal building,” said Spinks. “The airport is really the front door to our community. For many people who come here, this is their first experience in LaGrange – how they are treated at the airport. Their first impression needs to be a good one, and fortunately, it is.”
Situated on 850 acres, LaGrange-Callaway Airport features two runways – a primary runway that’s 5,600 feet long with a precision instrument landing system and a second runway, 5,000 feet long, both which have the ability to accommodate anything from light aircraft to corporate jets. The Airport Authority operates as the fixed based operator in the airport’s terminal building and provides various services, including aircraft fueling and hangar storage.
The airport staff includes administrative assistant Suzanne Robinson and three linemen – Steve Sivell, Bill Sanders and Rodney Still – whose job is to care for the airplane, its pilot and passengers upon arrival through takeoff. The Authority is currently working to fill the airport manager position.
Impressively, said Spinks, the airport is debt-free.
With a grant from the Callaway Foundation, the terminal building was renovated in 2009 and outfitted with a pilot’s lounge, snooze room, kitchen, flight planning room, and a conference room.
Based at the airport hangar are 74 aircraft belonging to area businesses and individuals. Several aviation businesses are onsite, including Southside Aviation, which provides aircraft maintenance and repair services; Flying Club and AirVentures, offering flight instruction and aircraft rentals; and Air Evac Life Team, a 24-hour air ambulance operation.
“Property taxes are collected on those planes, and the airport creates jobs for the businesses located there,” said Spinks.
Like other airports, LaGrange-Callaway Airport requires government funding to keep it operational, according to Spinks. While Troup County serves as its FAA-required governmental sponsor, the airport also receives funding from the FAA and Georgia Department of Transportation. The City of LaGrange contributes operationally and financially as well.
“I don’t know of a local airport that doesn’t receive some government assistance for capital projects in exchange for the important role they play in economic development and sustainability,” said Spinks. “We are fortunate to have a team of local governments that lend their support. With their help, LaGrange-Callaway Airport has kept pace though both good and bad economies, bringing travelers and new businesses into Troup County. The airport has played a quiet role that’s made a big difference.”