I was having lunch last week with a woman who works in the tourism industry. Here in Florida, tourism is a big deal, and so we have folks in the private sector, and the public sector, who are dedicated to making sure travelers know there is plenty to do when they get here.
The list of awesome touristy things to do in the Sunshine State is almost limitless. Fortunately for those of us who are interested in things that fly, our spectacular weather and stunningly diverse offering of aviation centric opportunities has turned Florida into something of an aviation destination for people from all over the planet.
I like that. In fact, it’s the primary reason that I live here.
Our lunch was intended to focus on the Polk Aviation Alliance, which can be thought of as an industry specific economic development tool. Aviation is all we do. But then aviation touches on education, tourism, and commerce. So it will come as no surprise that the liaison from the Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing group would sit down with a city commissioner who is also a Polk Aviation Alliance representative to find out how we might work together a little more productively.
I like discussions that have a positive tone. Notice I didn’t say we were having lunch to decide who out-ranked who, or who would bend to the other’s will. Nope. We were meeting to find out how much common ground we had and what we could do to maximize the potential our of relationship – to the advantage of the groups we each represent, not to mention the residents of this fine All-American County.
Half an hour into our lunch, happenstance came into play. And happenstance came along just like this. We were discussing SUN ’n FUN, which is a massive tourist draw each Spring. Lakeland Linder Regional Airport becomes not only the busiest airport in the world for a week, it also becomes a temporary home for tens of thousands of travelers who pack tents, recreational vehicles, mobile homes, hotel rooms, friend’s couches, and who knows what else – all in an effort to stay as close to the action as possible.
My counterpart said something to the effect of, “I wish we could get bus service from SUN ’n FUN to the surrounding shopping centers.” She and her counterparts have been working on this dream for a while now, it seems. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with a segment of county government (the tourism department), which would have to work with another segment of county government (the transit department), which would have to interact with a city department (the airport administration), and a private entity (SUN ’n FUN), the ability to get anything done becomes infinitely more complex.
There is a moral to this story, however. If you speak openly about your plans, your dreams, and your hopes for the future, eventually you may find yourself sitting across the lunch table from someone who can help make your dreams come true. That was the case in this instance, or at least I hope that will be the ultimate outcome.
“Well,” I answered my lunch partner. “I can probably help you with bus transportation. I’m the chairman of the Polk Transit Board of Directors.”
Right then the big lightbulb in the sky switched on. Yep, right there at the same table we had a representative of the tourism department, and the transit board. We were also both members of the Polk Aviation Alliance, which counts Lakeland Linder Regional Airport and SUN ’n FUN among its membership. Partnerships were coming out of the woodwork. Suddenly the impossible seemed relatively easy to accomplish. And it may be. Within two weeks all the interested parties will be sitting down in a conference room at SUN ’n FUN to see if we can hammer out the details.
Now, I have to imagine at least a few readers are scratching their heads wondering what the big deal is. Bus service to and from the airport? Who cares? It’s a fair question. So I’ll provide a little context if I can.
The businesses surrounding the airport facilities in Lakeland are aware SUN ’n FUN takes place every year. The managers of nearby businesses hear airplane noise all day long, from early morning until late into the evening. They and their employees wait in traffic caused by thousands of out-of-towners who aren’t quite sure where their turn might be. And they fret over the fact that even in a down economy, these thousands of visitors often have no way to get off the field and conveniently into the businesses nearby to grab a meal, or buy a book, or stop into the gym, or go to a movie, etc. Potential customers can’t readily get to nearby businesses.
If Polk Transit can come to terms with SUN ’n FUN, and the Lakeland Airport Administration can get on board, too, the businesses in the surrounding area will benefit from an annual influx of tourists to a greater degree than they ever have before. And that causes non-aviation oriented businesses to earn additional income. Which in turn causes them to value aviation and aviation-oriented events more enthusiastically. That in turn causes employees of those businesses to see how aviation can positively impact their lives, and their bank accounts. And the benefits just keep on rolling, just like the wheels on the bus.
So there you have it. Happenstance, when combined with opportunity, and driven by interested folks who are willing to hammer out a deal, equals economic development to prosper….even well away from the airport.
It may not be the most compelling story in the world. But if it causes a few dozen customers to walk through the door of your laundromat, restaurant, bookstore, movie theater, or whatever else you might have — then it’s a big ol’ success. And we could use more successes right about now. A little more happenstance wouldn’t hurt, either.
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 maintains multiple blogs and interacts via the Internet at JamieBeckett.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.