The new Smith Reynolds Airport Board held its first meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 19, and was briefed on the recent efforts conducted by an Aerotropolis Task Force that is co-chaired by County Commissioner Chair David Plyler and Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines. The Task Force was formed after a study was conducted by Dr. Jack Kasarda and Brent Lane of Aerotropolis Business Concepts LLC, to explore how Smith Reynolds Airport can become more of an economic driver for the entire community.
Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce President Mark Owens attended the meeting and talked about the Chamber’s roll and how to best include the Airport in local economic development efforts.
“Throughout the process, we’ve been able to find out what a true gem our airport is and the many great opportunities we have with the surrounding areas,” Owens told the Airport Board.
Since the study was released last year, a Task Force, made up of community leaders, has been actively looking at how the airport can connect to the activities happening at the Innovation Quarter, Whitaker Park and local universities, along with how it can attract new innovations like drones and vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft. The Task Force is also looking at how to market available land and building space at the airport and potential uses for other county properties located near it.
Owens said the process includes outreach to the community surrounding the airport to make sure that the resulting development and the jobs that are created benefit everyone.
Aerotropolis was just one of several issues related to the airport that the new board heard. The airport, which is owned by Forsyth County, officially became a county department this year. The organizational change gives the airport access to more county resources, including $1.1 million recently allocated by county commissioners to address some of Smith Reynold’s capital maintenance needs. The Airport Commission of Forsyth County, which was established to govern the airport in 1949, has now been replaced by the Airport Board, which is made of seven members appointed by the county commissioners.
It’s a new board filled with familiar faces. It consists of the five members of the former Airport Commission, which are Scott Piper, James Shaw, Thomas McKim, Perry Hudspeth and County Commissioner Ted Kaplan. Former Chamber CEO Gayle Anderson and Inmar CEO David Mounts, who were part of the Airport Advisory Board that helped guide the airport through its reorganization last year, are also now part of the Airport Board.
“The transition has worked out as seamlessly as we could’ve possibly hoped,” said Piper, who is Airport Board chair.
Piper said the county services the airport now has access to have been helpful. He said the Aerotropolis concept is a critical part of the airport’s future and bringing awareness to what an asset Smith Reynolds is to the innovation community. The study was originated by Anderson, when she was Chamber CEO, and now has the support of the city, the county and local business leaders.
Smith Reynolds, a 700 acre general aviation airport located on North Liberty Street, is currently used for corporate and recreational aviation and has commercial tenants who provide services like flight training and Maintenance Overhaul and Repair (MRO) on large passenger aircraft. A recent state study found that the airport and its related aviation and aerospace assets have an $801 million impact on the local economy and support 3,585 jobs. This was the highest impact among North Carolina’s 62 general aviation public airports.
The airport has numerous capital projects planned. Construction is expected to begin this summer on a voter-approved bond project for a $16.6 million Forsyth Tech Aviation Center at the airport that will train students in MRO work. The airport and Forsyth Tech plan to partner with nearby high schools to encourage students to participate in the program. There’s also plans to build an additional ramp to park aircraft on and to renovate the terminal building, both of which are tentatively expected to begin construction next year.
The next Airport Board meeting will be March 21 at 4 p.m.