Commissioners, It’s Time to Approve New Airport Authority

Cherry Capital Airport (TVC) is one of Northern Michigan’s true gems. A modern, convenient and high-quality transportation hub, TVC is a key regional asset and considered a tier one, critical component of the state transportation system. The airport produces roughly $1 billion of annual economic impact, ranking behind only Detroit and Grand Rapids in the state of Michigan.

Cherry Capital has made great strides to improve the availability of flights and destination options, now serving 17 destinations with direct flights. It has seen record traffic in both 2018 and 2019, increasing 36% since 2010 to more than half a million travelers per year.

2020 promises to be a pivotal year for the future of the airport and the central role it plays in both the economic development and quality of life for the region. The Northwestern Regional Airport Commission, with representation from both Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties, has worked through an extensive evaluation process of updates to the joint operating agreement, as well as improvements to the airport governance structure. This thoughtful and thorough process included the appointment of an advisory committee, guidance from airport governance consultants and significant public input.

The resulting recommendation is to transition from the current commission governance structure to a new airport authority under the Michigan Act 95 of 2015. Creating an airport authority will address both the required updates to the current airport joint operating agreement and provide a governance structure that allows TVC to more effectively compete for flights and passenger traffic in a very competitive air transport environment.

Operating improvements will address several policies that are not in line with FAA guidelines, conflicts between the terms of the current operating and lease agreements, and issues with historical property transactions. The authority structure also creates operational efficiencies that allow the airport to be run in a more business-oriented way including the direct purchase and sale of property, direct management of TVC operations and zoning control.

An airport authority structure under Act 95 provides significant improvements to the accountability and transparency of airport governance. The change will reduce liability for Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties while making airport management more directly accountable to the community. The changes will improve focus on the regional importance – and therefore regional impact – of airport operations.

These improvements will also bring significant economic benefits. Cherry Capital Airport plays a key role in the economic growth and development of our region. It is a cornerstone of our efforts to attract more skilled workers and new businesses to the Grand Traverse region.

In today’s economy, the ability to move people who generate and share knowledge is one of the most vital economic drivers. Research shows that strong airports are closely associated with the key characteristics of knowledge-based economies: increases in economic output, wages, and incomes. Airport activity is a key indicator of regional development, educational attainment, wealth and productivity, as well as the level of artistic and cultural amenities in a community.

There is a close connection between airline passenger traffic and regional employment. Studies indicate that airport passenger traffic and the number of flights are directly correlated to overall job growth, as well as the percentage of a population employed in knowledge-based, professional, technology and creative-industry jobs.

A strong regional airport is also one of the key factors for businesses considering a move or expansion to a new location. A modern and efficient governance structure for TVC is an important step in attracting new companies and diversifying our local economy.

Grand Traverse and Leelanau county commissioners should move forward to approve the new airport authority structure. The changes will strengthen our economy, streamline airport operations, improve management accountability and ultimately lead to more flights and more competitive ticket prices for residents and visitors alike.

Warren Call is the president/CEO of Traverse Connect, a regional economic development organization that includes the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and Venture North. Contact him at warren.call@traverseconnect.org.

 

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