There were six of us sitting around the table. The local economic development council had just announced the hiring of a new executive director, and the new guy was making the rounds to meet and greet as many people as he could before his official start date rolled around. So the city manager, two directors, a city commissioner, and an economic development council member sat down to talk business at city hall.
The new guy is competent, assertive, accomplished, energetic, and has a head crammed full of ideas to make our economy more diverse, more robust, and just plain more, frankly. That’s what economic development guys do. They identify opportunities on the horizon, wrangle them into town, and do their best to rally the troops so that even the dullest executive on the board can tell that your town is the only town worth considering for the relocation of their new facility.
My town got the right guy. I’m sure of it. While I had no hand in the interview or selection process, I’m impressed with what he has to say and where he sees my city going in the coming years. So as the conversation shifted to focus on near-term opportunities, it was with high hopes and considerable confidence that I tossed out the obvious suggestion — let’s not forget about general aviation as we start planning for the future.
Now that may not be a recommendation that comes up in a lot of economic development meetings. Not in the early stages anyway. But perhaps it should. General aviation is a massive industry with all sorts of advantages to offer the community as a whole. Just ask me, I’ll tell you all about it.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to get into my whole, “general aviation is awesome,” spiel. The new guy smiled and nodded in my direction as I began my pitch, making the whole discussion unnecessary. It seems he’d already been briefed in advance of the meeting. He knew “the airport commissioner” was going to hit on the importance of aviation to our economy, and he was ready for it.
I can’t say I’m surprised at his reaction, but I can say I’m pleased. He suggested that he would like to attend Sun ‘n Fun with me one day, if I was willing to show him around. Of course, I took that offer in a heartbeat. So keep an eye peeled if you’re in Lakeland, Florida, at the end of March. You just might see me wandering the grounds jabbering away like an over-caffeinated monkey, doing my best to show our new economic development executive director a hundred reasons why general aviation should be a player in our city’s short, intermediate, and long term economic plan.
And here’s my point — the name of the economic development council’s executive director doesn’t matter. The name of the city he will be based in doesn’t matter. I don’t matter. What should give every GA enthusiast hope is not the personalities involved, or the proximity to a massive event like Sun ‘n Fun. The pot of gold at the end of this particular rainbow is that general aviation is a legitimate component in the economic planning responsibilities of any town, city, or county that owns an airport. If there is a private field in your neighborhood, that should come into play, too.
General aviation truly matters and it should be treated as if it matters by the movers and shakers of your community every bit as much as it is valued by those in my community. If it’s not, then get up, brush yourself off, and launch into a campaign to make it one of the topics being discussed around the more important tables in town. If that doesn’t work, then go ahead and become one of the movers and shakers in your town. And bring a couple knowledgeable friends with you when you do it.
The more of us there are at the table, the more clout we’ll have when the going gets tough. For the moment however, the going is very smooth in my neighborhood and there is clear sailing ahead. General aviation has made it onto the radar for my town’s economic future, and the future is looking bright indeed.
Now let’s see what we can do to raise general aviation’s profile in your town, too. It will be work, but good things will happen. Truly, they will.
Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He also is an owner and contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach Jamie at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com
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