If you’ve caught a flight to or from one of North Carolina’s many airports recently, you might have been too focused on getting through security and making your connection to think too much about how airports impact our overall economy. But although they often take a backseat to highways and bridges in discussions about our infrastructure future, strengthening investments in our state’s airports is among the most critical priorities for securing North Carolina’s continued economic competitiveness.
Airports are essential to the state for many reasons, but they start with jobs. About 123,400 aviation-related jobs are directly created, and $913 million in direct government revenue is generated, by airports throughout North Carolina. But indirect and induced economic impacts are significant as well. Airports provide many of the vital links between our state and the global economy that help move goods and people into, out of and around North Carolina, sustaining a healthy flow of commerce for the state. All told, the statewide economic impact from airports has been calculated at a whopping $31 billion annually. To quote NCDOT Division of Aviation Director Bobby Watson: “Airports mean jobs – on the airport, supporting the airport, and supporting the businesses that utilize and rely on them.”
Measuring total jobs and money generated only tells part of the story, however. Airports also promote growth by providing the entire state, as well as individual communities, with a competitive advantage to attract new employers. Businesses in high-tech sectors (for example, cutting-edge manufacturers, like those that form the backbone of North Carolina’s competitive economy) rely on the ability of airports to efficiently move their time-sensitive, high-value products to market. Click on this link and scroll to page five, and you can see just how much of an impact this can mean for communities statewide; as the map shows, no matter where you go in North Carolina you will never be too far from one of the 72 publicly owned and nearly 300 privately owned airports operating across the state.
North Carolina’s airports are important drivers of innovation as well. Our cutting-edge aerospace manufacturing sector is pioneering advances now being implemented across the industry on a global scale. This activity supports an additional $10.5 billion in economic activity and has fueled the creation of approximately 42,600 jobs right here at home. The sizeable military presence – U.S. Armed Forces conduct roughly 200,000 operations at our state’s airports every year – also serves to foster this innovation and the increased economic activity associated with it. And as a national leader in the practical integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, more commonly called “drones”), NCDOT’s Division of Aviation is playing an active role in adapting this new technology to redefine our approaches to agriculture, construction, security and other sectors vital to our state’s continued growth.
Strengthening investments in North Carolina’s entire transportation and infrastructure network has long been a key priority of the NC Chamber’s Jobs Agenda. As our state plans to add about 2 million more people by 2030, we will continue to prioritize these investments, including pursuing new ways to maximize the economic potential of our airports. To learn more about this potential, check out this economic impact report put out by the Division of Aviation earlier this year. In future updates, we will give you the scoop on two other components of our statewide transportation network that have also shown massive potential to boost job creation in North Carolina: rails and ports. Stay tuned!
Gary J. Salamido
Vice President, Government Affairs
North Carolina Chamber