County’s consideration of change in airport management deserves support


Kent County, and especially Gerald R. Ford International Airport, are fast approaching a monumental change that could provide a boost to all regional businesses.

The Kent County Board of Commissioners is expected to hold a public hearing, likely Aug. 27, to weigh any objections to the county’s creation of a regional airport authority to take over GFIA management. The board could vote that same day, after the hearing, to create the airport authority.

The move was first discussed in 2013 but was given emphasis last August and won support of the Michigan legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder, who signed authorizing legislation early this month.

The move has not been without detractors, including former airport director James Koslowski, who was held in such high regard he was elected to chair the national association of airport professionals.

The Business Journal finds the long-serving efforts of the West Michigan Regional Air Alliance, created in 2010 by Dick DeVos, to offer compelling realities of the impact, and certainly future gains for enhancements in economic development for the entire region.

The Air Alliance, comprised primarily of regional business leaders and economic development agency The Right Place Inc, was instrumental in negotiating GFIA air service with low-cost airlines. The airport authority could enhance those efforts.

The Business Journal has reported that changes in the airline industry have turned previous operating procedures upside down. Most notably, profit-seeking airlines no longer pursue airports.

The county board in the recent past began appointing business and regional representatives to the aeronautics board. One such member, Holland businessman David Slikkers, told the Business Journal the biggest issue facing GFIA is: “How do we continue to position Grand Rapids as an attractive and desirable market for the airlines?”

Brian Ryks, executive director of the Kent County Department of Aeronautics, told the Business Journal in an email that passenger increases could assist the airport in increasing its FAA Airport Improvement Program funding, a formula set by Congress through the Federal Aviation Bill. GFIA also currently receives $4.1 million in FAA Entitlement funding.

Ryks also hinted that creating the authority would “position the airport for more creative funding and economic development opportunities.”

The Right Place President Birgit Klohs also serves on the aeronautics board and often emphasizes that the economic development agency serves the entire region and certainly sees the development and advancement of GFIA as central to that effort.

The county would still own the airport property, leasing it to the new authority for a proposed 40-year period, likely for $1. The authority would not have taxing power or the ability to borrow money without county approval.

The Business Journal supports the county and aeronautics board’s endeavor for an airport authority.

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