State study: Arnold Palmer Regional Airport boosts economy by $226M
The 2019 state Bureau of Aviation update of its similar 2011 report shows the Unity airport’s impact has more than doubled since 2010 — when it pumped $97.5 million into the area, a year before Spirit Airlines began regular commercial flights from the airport to Southern destinations.
Another study placed the airport’s economic output at nearly $200 million in 2015.
“All the development you see around the airport, it’s sort of like a snowball effect,” said Gabe Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority, which operates the airport. “What the airport is doing, it’s like an incubator, as far as business is concerned.”
Located along Route 981 a short distance southwest of the airport, the Westmoreland County Airpark industrial park has 50% of its acreage sold or optioned, according to the park’s website.
Two hotels are located within sight of the airport, near the intersection of Route 981 and Route 30. While the Kmart store closed last year at nearby Mountain Laurel Plaza, other businesses, including a Starbucks and a mattress store, have opened in recent years along Route 30 east of the airport.
Shift supervisor Alex White said the Starbucks shop sees its business increase on the weekend when the airport holds its annual air show. “We definitely notice a big difference,” she said.
Passengers who are waiting to catch a flight any time of the year may stop in for a latte.
General manager Mary Simms said the nearby 80-room Hampton Inn attributes about one-eighth of its business to airport travel.
“We have definitely seen a pickup in business from the airport,” she said. “The airport, for any business here, has an impact, no doubt about it.”
From October through March, the hotel puts up some guests whose Spirit flights at the airport have been cancelled because of poor conditions. “Weather does impact the flights,” Simms said.
“When people come to our region, they’re going to take advantage of the hotels,” Monzo said.
He said planned widening of the runway at Arnold Palmer Regional should help pilots and eliminate some delays caused by inclement weather.
Spirit officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
ARCH Cutting Tools Latrobe, formerly Siem Tool Co., moved to the airpark in 2007 because it outgrew its former location on Unity’s Center Drive, according to President Jim Gray. The manufacturer of specialty carbide cutting tools for the metal-working industry started with two employees in 1998 and now has about 40 on its payroll, he said.
The airpark location was “attractive because of the airport, and it’s centralized for people coming in on Route 30,” Gray said.
For now, he said, the company’s customers and staff from sister offices reach his Unity Township plant by flying to Pittsburgh and then driving. If Arnold Palmer Regional is able to expand its service and offer connections beyond Spirit’s destinations in Florida and Myrtle Beach, S.C., “that would be a great situation,” he said.
To help the local economic growth trend continue, Unity Township officials are considering zoning amendments that would provide more flexibility for developing properties surrounding the airport.
The aviation bureau determines economic impact based on spending by visitors, businesses and government. Airport employees patronizing area businesses is another factor.
According to state figures, nearly 1,500 people are employed at Arnold Palmer Regional, drawing a payroll of $63.8 million. That compares to just 516, who earned $24 million, in 2010.
It costs another $1.8 million annually to operate the airport, according to Monzo. But, given the economic impact, he said, “you’re getting a much bigger benefit than you’re putting in.”
This year, the airport passed the 2-million mark for passengers served since Spirit began service in February 2011. As of August, that number increased by an additional 166,280
The county authority’s other facility, Rostraver Airport, also has grown in economic impact — at more than $24 million, up from $20.4 million in 2010 — according to state figures.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .