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Editorial: Commissioners plan bold, new investment at county-owned airport

In a business that doesn’t always produce thrilling results — infrastructure investment — the Mid-Carolina Regional Airport is more exciting than most.

If things go according to plan, cars keep driving across streets like normal when roads are resurfaced or improved, drinking water keeps flowing when old pipes are replaced, buses continue dropping off passengers when government invests in public transit and people continue to go about their daily lives when internet speeds increase — albeit with faster downloads and less buffering.

When Rowan County commissioners invest public funding in new hangars, it usually produces a direct payoff in the form of more planes on the ground and money in the county’s coffers. Airplanes usually don’t sit in one place, but they produce property tax revenue based on where they’re registered. They need gas to fly, too, and the airport makes some money from selling fuel for jets and planes flying in and out for recreational purposes.

As a result, the current county administration has made the Mid-Carolina Regional Airport a favored destination for investment intended to boost economic development. County leaders have basically ruled out chances of a runway expansion because of logistical and financial challenges. They’ve built new hangars, office space and expanded the main terminal building and seen a payoff in the form of new tenants, a busier airport and increased tax revenue. A new plan would build a collection of new hangars with $12.3 million.

“The revenue picture we have is brighter and we think the airport is a great generator of opportunity for the entire county,” Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds told the Airport Advisory Board on Tuesday.

The bold plan would build four large hangars for corporate and privately owned jets, three smaller hangars, a hangar with office space attached and a “public safety hangar.” It’s the most significant investment yet in new hangar space by the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.

As long as it doesn’t occur at the expense of more important investments, spending tax dollars at the airport is a good move because it can produce a tangible and immediate impact through tax revenue. The airport also has suffered from higher demand than supply of hangar space.

With any luck, the $12.3 million will produce more revenue than its initial cost — money that can then be invested in other county services. It’s worth thinking about other worthwhile investments at the airport, too. Would a warehouse-style speculative building near the airport have any value for a manufacturer?

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