Airport economic clout pegged at $64B


As it prepares to push for the next multi-billion dollar wave of expansion plans, the Atlanta airport is releasing a report showing it drives nearly a half-million jobs across the metro region.

The report also says jobs at the airport grew 9.1 percent to 63,300 over the past four years — a notably better growth rate than the metro area as a whole. Those jobs include airline, airport and contractor positions.

CHARTS: Atlanta takes flight on airport's growth

The growth came as the airport opened a new international terminal, and as passenger traffic resumed edging up after stalling during the recession.

All told, the report attributes about 450,000 metro region jobs to the airport directly or indirectly, from taxi drivers to hotel workers and Buckhead waiters whose businesses are fed by the daily waves of passengers. It pegs the total annual revenue generated by the airport and those jobs at $64.2 billion.

“I doubt that any other investment in Georgia is that important by a longshot,” said Atlanta-based consulting economist Donald Ratajczak.

At the same time, he said some of the visitors and transported goods that go into the report’s calculation would come to Atlanta even if it didn’t have such a massive airport.

The airport, which is owned by the city of Atlanta and fueled by revenue generated by its own operations, commissioned two firms, Economic Development Research Group and Ricondo & Associates, to do the study. The report is being released today but The Atlanta Journal-Constitution received an advance summary.

Though it is not aimed at supporting any particular expansion project, the report comes only a few months after airport managers rolled out an updated, $4 billion vision for projects through 2030. They will be mainly funded with passenger fees and airport revenue, but will require support or approval from city leaders and federal agencies.

The plan includes tearing down and rebuilding bigger parking garages, construction of an airport terminal hotel and more cargo buildings. Eventually, according to airport projections, more concourses and a sixth runway will be needed. New parking garages are among projects that could start in the next few years.

It’s not uncommon for big institutions such as airports, universities, convention centers and sports teams to gin up periodic snapshots of their economic impact for use in maintaining public and political support.

“A lot of the trends around Hartsfield-Jackson are moving in the right direction,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said. “We’ve built the most successful, most efficient airport in the world.”

The airport’s impact figures are used by agencies such as the Metro Atlanta Chamber and Invest Atlanta when talking to businesses about relocating to Atlanta and showing the breadth of the airport’s impact, said airport spokesman Reese McCranie.

Some 173,000 jobs are generated through visitor spending, according to the report on Hartsfield-Jackson. Even more jobs are driven by airport, visitor industry and cargo businesses buying goods and services from businesses in metro Atlanta, ranging from suppliers to caterers to consultants.

Growth in jobs at the airport came despite balky airport passenger traffic growth as the economy has struggled through recession and recovery.

Southwest Airlines has shrunk AirTran Airways’ former hub into a smaller operation, cutting dozens of daily flights. The airport’s cargo traffic has been weighed down by years of sluggishness in the global freight market. And Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines has cut the number of flights from Atlanta as it replaces smaller regional jets with larger planes that can carry more passengers.

Hartsfield-Jackson is being overtaken by Chicago O’Hare for the most flight operations in the country, but Atlanta remains the world leader for airline passenger traffic, with 94 million passengers in 2013. And the Atlanta airport still offers nonstop flights to more than 60 international destinations in at least 45 countries, fueling connectivity for global businesses and commerce.

In an effort to attract more international flights, particularly to fast-growing economies including Brazil, Russia, India and China, the airport this year launched its first-ever flight incentive program worth up to $2 million.

“There is no greater opportunity to use the airport as a tool for job creation than air service development to those fast-growing international markets,” Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Miguel Southwell said.

The airport is building new cargo facilities and plans to hire consultants to develop more cargo flights and passenger flights. Southwell also envisions promoting Atlanta as an international capital for medical tourism.

The recently-created Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance aims to push growth on the city’s Southside by focusing on less-developed areas around the airport. With Porsche Cars North America’s new headquarters as a catalyst, the group hopes to attract more firms, beyond just logistics companies but also more office buildings, hospitality and entertainment.

The Porsche facility is being built on the site of an old Ford plant just east of Hartsfield-Jackson’s runways.

“It’s about branding and marketing the airport area as a viable place to do business,” said Jon Tuley, a principal planner with the Atlanta Regional Commission, which is supporting the aerotropolis alliance, “in the same way Midtown, downtown and Perimeter have been able to do over the years.”



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