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Improvements at Columbus’ John Glenn airport drive up economy in nearby communities

  

The John Glenn Columbus International Airport is more active than ever. In 2016 it recorded it second busiest year, catering to 7.3 million passengers. That's a 7.8 percent increase in activity compared to the previous year.

Air transportation plays a key factor in increasing economic activity and productivity, according to a report from the Federal Aviation Administration. The industry accounts for more than 5 percent of the GDP, contributes $1.6 trillion in economic activity and supports nearly 11 million jobs nationwide.

The Columbus Regional Airport Authority also expects long-term growth to continue and is preparing for an influx of passengers in the coming years. The new terminal and midfield development program will cost upwards of $1 billion. It includes plans to update aging infrastructure and modernize facilities throughout the next 20 years, according to a statement from the airport authority. So far, the program includes construction of a terminal, parking garage, rental car facility and more. There will also be space for new hotels, restaurants and other projects aimed at creating a more modern airport.

Turner Construction Company was awarded a $106 million contract to build the rental car facility that will be built on 10 acres near the center of the airport. The work will begin in 2018, with the new facility scheduled to open in 2020.

The planning process for the new terminal won't begin until 2020 or later, but developers around the airport and in the nearby communities have started a flurry of new construction.

"John Glenn is a true demonstration of how airports can be economic drivers for their communities. It reflects the health of the community's economy and can help drive that community," said Angie Tabor, spokeswoman for the airport authority.

In the past few years, a handful of companies have expanded or relocated to be closer to John Glenn. Quinten Harris, the deputy director of jobs and economic development for Columbus' Department of Development, said that a large part of the activity was driven by the city's "One of Us" marketing campaign aimed at encouraging companies to join Columbus' diverse economy. The campaign coincided with the airport's $80 million renovation project announced in 2016, which included an updated lobby, new paint, better tech and general upgrades.

"John Glenn is an economic engine for the region and acts as a gateway for the city to the world. It is one of the very first impressions that a visitor has, so making a significant investment is important," Harris said.

Harris noted several companies along Bridgeview Avenue chose the location because of its proximity to the airport. NetJets, a private aviation company, occupies a 100,000-square-foot facility, and FlightSafety International, a pilot training and service company, has a 50,000-square-foot location with the option to expand up to 90,000 square feet on Bridgeview Avenue. Just down road, Daimler Group, which built NetJet's headquarters, has started construction on a speculative 100,000-square-foot office and warehouse project.

"The area has always been pretty active. It's a vibrant community in and around the interstate. The airport has been a catalyst in the continued investment by businesses and improvements in this part of the region," Harris said.

Nearby Whitehall has seen an increase in development, and credits the changes at John Glenn as a major influence. Zach Woodruff, director of economic development and public service for Whitehall, served on a mayoral task force that examined ways to increase economic activity around the John Glenn airport. That led to a $3 million public infrastructure project to improve the gateway into Whitehall from the airport along Hamilton Road.

"We can tie about $30 million of capital investments from Hamilton Road corridor to Airport South Commerce and Tech Park so far," Woodruff said. "A lot of upswing in development is going on just north of the airport. We're looking at probably another $25 to $30 million in new business and spec building around the airport."

John Glenn won't turn into an industrial distribution or shipping hub, that's happening at additional Columbus airport Rickenbacker International Airport, Woodruff said. The development around John Glenn airport is varied, but office space is seeing the greatest increase, he said.

Wasserstrom Company, a restaurant supplier and distributor of food service equipment, moved its headquarters to a 50,000-square-foot building in Whitehall, while RiteRug Flooring relocated its corporate headquarters to a 300,000-square-foot building there, too. Most recently, Heartland Bank chose Whitehall for its new 60,000-square-foot office space.

"Investment in John Glenn is good for Whitehall and other communities around the airport. A rising tide lifts all ships," Woodruff said. "It's clear to us that a more modern airport with additional flights and passengers is good—we've seen the results in brick and steel."