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Posted October 1, 2012 in All

Study: GSP’s impact on Upstate economy soars to $817M
October 1, 2012

Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport’s impact on the local economy is soaring to new heights.

GSP officials on Monday discussed the results of the airport’s 2012 Economic Impact Study that showed its annual output has increased more than twofold to more than $817 million, compared to almost $378 million when the study was last conducted in 2009.

According to the study, 9,528 jobs are supported by GSP, including 951 positions at the airport, compared to 3,692 three years ago. The airport also adds nearly $171 million in local income, a 52 percent increase from nearly $113 million during the last study.

Dave Edwards, president and CEO of GSP, said the addition of Dallas-based low-cost carrier Southwest Airline’s service in 2010, the airport’s capital improvement plan and $115 million main terminal renovation named project WINGSPAN are driving forces behind GSP’s resurgence.

The numbers highlight the airport’s improved performance since Edwards’ arrival in 2009, when GSP was hemorrhaging about two-thirds of its business to larger airports and customers complained of high ticket prices and a lack of destinations. But Edwards credited the hard work and vision put forth by Upstate business officials and elected leaders to implement and support a plan to help the airport realize its full potential. The plan included landing Southwest, renovating the main terminal to support future growth and continuing to increase passenger traffic.

“It’s amazing to see how significantly some of the numbers have changed,” Edwards said. “When it comes to economic impact, these numbers validate the importance placed on having great air service. … The plan is on track. We’re pleased with our numbers and what we’ve been able to accomplish so far.”

Customers are also apparently happy with the airport’s promise for bigger planes, cheaper flights and more destinations.

The concept Edwards called the “Southwest Effect” was clearly evident during the airline’s first year at GSP, as the airport’s monthly passenger traffic skyrocketed into the double digits. Although the number has tapered off to about a 3 percent increase, Edwards said business is continuing to improve.

Tax revenue generated by the airport has increased 140 percent to almost $113 million annually, compared to almost $47 million three years ago, the study said.

Income from visitor spending for business and leisure travel increased almost fivefold to nearly $196 million, compared to just less than $57 million in 2009. Meanwhile, the airport said it supports 7,828 tourism jobs in the local economy, a 250 percent increase compared with 2,219 during the last study.

Local officials heaped praise on Edwards and his team for continuing to carry out the dream established in 1962 by the late textile magnate Roger Milliken of operating one of the top regional airports in the country.

“(Edwards is) like the quarterback that has guided the airport,” said County Councilman David Britt. “Kudos to Mr. Milliken for seeing how important it was. … The airport commission, along with the Upstate, bought into it and has carried out that vision.”

Britt said GSP is the most vital component to the region’s economic success. He said the airport has been instrumental in a number of important projects, from BMW Manufacturing Co. to the state Ports Authority’s proposed inland port. “(GSP) has always been a key partner in our success in terms of recruiting companies, keeping companies and helping them to grow,” he said. “Even in the state that it’s in now (under renovation), it makes such a statement about our region’s commitment to quality, class and excellence.”

David Cordeau, president and CEO of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce, said the study shows the reality of the Southwest Effect.

“It manifests in a number of different ways,” Cordeau said. “You see what happens when you get people back using the airport again … when you quantify all of that you get some great numbers. GSP is a critical piece of our infrastructure.” The airport’s influence could continue to grow as nears the celebration of its 50th birthday in the coming weeks and beyond.

Edwards said GSP’s commission will review the final draft of a land-use plan next month that will determine the future of 3,500 acres surrounding the airport, with the potential for opening it up for commercial development. He said upon approving the plan the airport will “aggressively” pursue the types of ventures that have the highest “compatibility” with GSP’s vision.

The airport also is continuing to seek out new opportunities for adding new airlines and services for customers.

“We have had and will continue to have conversations with JetBlue and other airlines about starting or expanding service into GSP,” Weston said, in an email. Edwards, who was recently named chairman of the North American chapter of Airports Council International, said GSP is “ahead of the curve” and is setting an example that other airports in the country want to follow. He said WINGSPAN is on track to be complete by 2016 and the project has already exceeded expectations for using local contractors and locally sourced materials.

“We’re very excited,” Edwards said. “It’s a wave I hope we can ride for a long time to come.”

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