Businesswoman donates $10K to help save airport

August 10, 2011

Ohio businesswoman Angela Phillips knows that a general aviation airport is a competitive advantage that can bring commerce and jobs to its community.

“The last thing you want to do is give it up and lose it,” she said.

Phillips, president and CEO of Phillips Manufacturing, a steel-fabricating enterprise with two plants in Ohio and another in Dothan, Ala., donated $10,000 to a local group’s effort to win federal matching funds to improve the Norwalk-Huron County Airport.

Phillips, whose Ohio plants in Shelby and Middletown employ about 100 people, uses a twin Beechcraft Baron based at the airport in Norwalk for business travel. In an interview, she told AOPA that she wanted the gesture to emphasize her belief that a general aviation airport helps grow a regional economy. She hopes county officials will sign and submit the grant application that could leverage hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal airport aid.

The Phillips donation and others were presented to the county commissioners last month by the Friends of Huron County Airport as part of the 5-percent local match for the federal airport funds. The package also included a $1,000 donation from Aerial Farming Services, a firm that provides aerial spraying services from the airport. The airport board provided $7,500. Combined, the public and private funds will make the airport eligible for about $400,000 in grants.

Dan LeClair, president of the Friends of Huron County Airport, presented the private donations to the Huron County Commissioners on July 12.

“As a result of signing the 2011 federal grant application, you will help bring an influx of money into our local economy, and allow local businesses the opportunity for extra projects and profits, that would otherwise be unavailable,” he said in a statement to the panel. “Signing the grant application will [ensure] that the trees which are obstructing the safe landings, and departures of aircraft and crews, will be removed, and no longer a hazard. Clearing the obstructions will also provide additional farmland for lease, and thus, more annual income from crop revenues for the airport.”

Bids will close for the proposed improvements Aug. 17, at which time the exact  amount of the grant application will be calculated. LeClair said he hoped that the commissioners would have the application before them for action at their Aug. 23 meeting. It remained unclear, despite airport authority backing, whether the county officials would support the effort.

Recent news accounts have portrayed the officials as unwilling to commit to doing so. AOPA reported in March that the association sent a letter to the commissioners urging them to support the airport rather than seek to close it and sell the property to an adjoining auto racetrack’s owner or other private entity. (The commissioners were asked to provide a comment about their position on the airport for this article.) On several occasions earlier this year, the FAA approved the racetrack’s requests to close the airport for short periods during which its access road was to be used to ease traffic congestion at the track.

Cancellation of two of the road-closing requests was later sought for lack of expected traffic, LeClair said. The next temporary airport closing was set for a five-hour period starting Aug. 13 at 8:30 p.m.

LeClair said that approving the grants would have the beneficial spin-off effect of improving the airport’s ability to generate its own revenue by expanding airport real estate that could be leased for farming. The Phillips donation demonstrated community recognition of the airport’s role in local economic development, he said.

“She has definite insight that General Aviation has a place in the business world, and I think she should be applauded for that,” LeClair said in an interview.

Phillips noted that the Huron County seat “ought to be able to have a decent airport,” and said she hoped officials would consider the airport grant as a means to enhance a community asset’s value.

If the commissioners failed to do so, they would “send a message that they are not looking at the whole picture,” she said. “If you want economic development, you have to have general aviation as an asset. There are too many communities that have it that they are competing against.”

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.