September 9, 2013

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Reaching New Heights

Salt Lake City International Airport is Ready for Takeoff

Natalie Gochnour

September 9, 2013

Economists love investment because it helps transform lower value inputs into higher value outputs. That’s economist-speak for economic development, and we are fortunate in Utah to have another major infrastructure investment project taking off … literally.

The Salt Lake City International Airport begins a decade-long redevelopment program this year. The airport will be completely rebuilt. The result will be a seismically safe, tech-savvy and customer-friendly facility that will accommodate a growing state. The airport redevelopment program joins I-15 CORE, Frontrunner and TRAX as another major transportation investment in the future of the Utah economy.

I serve on the Salt Lake City Department of Airports board. Here’s my list of things to watch for, get excited about and plan on in your new airport:

1. LEED certification. In keeping with Salt Lake City’s commitment to sustainability, the new airport will seek the U.S. Green Building Council LEED certification. They’ll either meet or exceed the silver-level designation, which means the new airport will conserve energy, reduce water consumption and improve indoor air quality. Utah’s our home and Mayor Ralph Becker and the city council are right to develop with the environment in mind.

2.  No local tax dollars. The airport has been planning for this rebuild for years and has socked away $631 million in cash to invest in the new airport. Now that’s fiscal responsibility. This cash, combined with airline fees, car rental fees, revenue bonds and federal grants will pay for the $2.2 billion investment. Utahns will see no general tax increase.

3. Jobs. The new airport means jobs, both in the short and long term. During construction, the airport will require architects, electricians, plumbers, mechanical engineers, structural engineers, civil engineers and other skilled craftsmen. The airport will purchase concrete, steel, drywall, woodwork, stone, paint, wall coverings, signage and other products. But the biggest economic impact is and will continue to be a well-run airport that meets the economic needs of a growing economy. 

4. Transit friendly. Look for the airport to treat transit passengers with first-class service. The new terminal will welcome TRAX travelers at grade level, which means you can check your baggage and be on your way without using an elevator, escalator or stairs. Watch for the 4 percent of travelers and employees who currently arrive using transit to double and triple in ensuing years.

5. Oversized bags. Utah’s a unique market because we have lots of oversized bags—skis, snowboards and golf clubs. The new airport will make skiers and snowboarders feel right at home, elevating our stature as a winter sports capital. The airport calls it oversized bags; I call it winter tourism, a major industry in our state.

6. Tech equipped. Another unique feature of Utah is our young, tech-smart population. Look for the airport to be equipped with all of the latest technology, making the airport efficient and customer friendly. This won’t be your grandfather’s airport.

7. LDS missionaries and service people. I’m hopeful returning missionaries and members of the armed services will get the welcome home they deserve—a large greeting area for families and other loved ones. No more cramped space at the bottom of an escalator. Missionaries and service men and women have made a sacrifice for the principles they believe in. Let’s welcome them home with style. It’s an “only in Utah” phenomenon we should celebrate.

8. Great leadership. Mayor Becker and the Salt Lake City Council serve a statewide mission in leading our capital city. They are doing a great job. We are also fortunate to have an airport staff under the able leadership of Executive Director Maureen Riley. The airport staff deserves our admiration and support. This airport serves Utah.

Economic development starts and ends with investment. The investment in the Salt Lake City International Airport, our gateway to and for the world, is an investment whose time has come. 

Natalie Gochnour is an associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber.


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