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ILM's Economic Impact Rises To $2.3 Billion, State Report Shows

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Jan 12, 2021
A state report shows ILM has an economic impact of $2.3 billion. (File photo)
Soaring to a $2.3 billion economic output, the Wilmington International Airport's contribution to the state had risen above previous figures before the COVID-19 downturn in overall travel, according to a state report.

That report, which is based on 2019 data, also showed ILM supported 16,385 jobs and generated $572.7 million in personal income and nearly $85 million in state and local taxes.

The recent figures mark a rise from a previous report, which showed ILM having an economic impact of $1.8 billion, supporting 13,000 jobs and generating $455.7 million in income and $66.8 million in tax revenues. 

This latest state data "demonstrates that investments in airport infrastructure and new capacity across the state and at ILM bring a strong return on the investment," said Gary Broughton, ILM's deputy airport director, in an email.

The report, released by the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Division of Aviation and conducted by N.C. State University’s Institute for Transportation Research and Education (ITRE), reviewed 2019 data and does not account for the 2020 impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the report, the new data will provide "a benchmark for tracking the recovery that’s expected in 2021."

"This report ... does not factor in the impact of the coronavirus. Therefore the impact of 2020 will be seen," Broughton said. "But I certainly expect the terminal expansion and added business will have a positive impact on the airport and community in the future.

"We are optimistic that 2021 will be stronger for everyone, including ILM," he added.

For ILM, airport officials attributed the growth in jobs and economic impact to the more than 1 million passengers who flew in and out of the airport in 2019; its three major commercial airlines bringing in new hubs/destinations; new aviation business partners; and the ongoing $61 million terminal expansion and renovation project.

That terminal project continues at ILM and is in its third phase with completion anticipated in late 2022.

"We hope the FAA and N.C. legislature continue to make investments with grants," Broughton said. "Locally, we continue to pursue more airlines and flights regardless of grant funding because any positive contribution to the community helps COVID recovery and growth opportunities."

In the meantime, ILM and its airlines are taking steps "to ensure the health and safety of the traveling public and return to the passenger activity we had in 2019," Broughton said. 

The pandemic isn't just impacting the commercial airlines and airports they serve, but also the aviation manufacturing industry. 

The report, however, showed growth in that sector before the pandemic, reporting a 13% increase in the state's aerospace manufacturing between 2015 and 2019, supported through companies such as Boeing, Honda Aircraft and GE Aviation, which has a manufacturing site in Wilmington. There are more than 200 aerospace manufacturing companies employing nearly 6,900 people in the state, according to the report.

Overall, the state report shows North Carolina's 10 commercial service and 62 general aviation airports contribute more than $61 billion in economic output, 373,000 jobs, $15 billion in personal income and $2.5 billion in state and local tax revenues, based on the 2019 data.

In local general aviation airports, Oak Island's Cape Fear Regional Jetport had an impact of nearly 2,000 jobs, $87.4 million in personal income, $11 million in state and local taxes and an economic output of nearly $280.6 million.

Another general aviation airport, Henderson Field in Pender County had an impact of 30 jobs,  $2 million in personal income, $227,000 in state and local taxes and an economic output of nearly $5.3 million.

“It is often viewed that general aviation airports such as Henderson Field in northern Pender County are burdens on the taxpayers, but this report relays the exact opposite. Businesses, big and small, utilize North Carolina's robust system of airports to efficiently access communities from all over the country. These businesses bring jobs, money, and tax revenue to our state," said Gage King, Henderson Field Airport manager, in a news release Tuesday.

Over the past 12 months, Henderson Field has served local manufacturers, suppliers of local manufacturers, agriculture, developers and health care industries, as well as bringing tourism business to area golf courses and beaches, King said.

Henderson Field is currently increasing its infrastructure to facilitate more businesses and tourism, including installing an Automated Weather Observation System, and is expected to start the process of extending its runway to 5,500 feet in the coming weeks.

"This is an elaborate project expected to last approximately three years, but it is much needed and can't come soon enough for a rapidly growing community," King said. "We look forward to continuing to positively impact the economy for years to come."
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