Watford airport has $5 million impact on local economy
By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer
According to the recent North Dakota Statewide Aviation Economic Impact Study, the economic impacts of the public-use airports, including Watford City’s Municipal Airport, have greatly increased over the past five years.
“When people think about an airport, they think air flights and individuals learning how to fly airplanes,” said Luke Taylor, Watford City Municipal Airport manager. “But people don’t tend to think about all the other uses of an airport such as the critical services, the agricultural services, and the folks flying in to do business.”
The study showed Watford City Municipal Airport’s total annual economic impact accounted for 44 jobs, $2,063,056 in annual payroll, and $5,205,805 in annual output.
“Our airport isn’t really seeing a dramatic decrease in activity,” stated Taylor. “It’s obviously slower during the winter months, but we still have local businesses in town flying crews in and out, and we still have our regular air ambulance and doctor services. The governor and his crew were here last week for the new high school opening. And the agriculture business hasn’t really felt many affects of the low oil prices. So, we’re staying pretty steady.”
According to the study, the Watford City Municipal Airport and the activities it supports contributes $151,791 in annual state and local tax revenues. The general aviation aircraft bring a little over 8,000 visitors to Watford City each year. And general aviation visitors and/or transient aerial applicators who use the airport have direct annual estimated spending of $725,400 for items that include lodging, food, ground transportation, retail shopping, or entertainment.
Other interesting facts about Watford City’s airport that came from the study include that the average annual direct capital investment from all federal, state, local, and private sources has been $1.3 million. Based and visiting aircraft rely on 100LL and Jet A fuel service, available 24/7 with a credit card (hangars and tie-downs are also available), and the airport plays an important role in supporting North Dakota’s vibrant agricultural industry by servicing aerial applicators that are based at the airport.
“Our ag services employ several pilots,” stated Taylor. “They purchase fuel from the airport. Their business is based on the airport so they’re paying taxes and property taxes. Plus the ag services help the farmers grow better quality and better yielding crops. It’s a huge service for our airport.”
According to the report, there are an estimated 30,300 farms in the state, and almost 40 million acres are devoted to agricultural activities. North Dakota is known not only for the crops that it produces, but also for the cattle that it raises. Aerial applicators play an important role in increasing the productivity of farmers and ranchers.
Annually, they treat an estimated five million acres in the state. Most often, treatments are provided to corn, wheat, barley, and soybeans. But aerial applicators also treat pasture and ranch lands, benefiting cattle production. The average farm size in North Dakota is 1,300 acres, and applying chemicals by ground can be time-consuming and even prohibitive in wet conditions.
Helena Chemical Company (formerly Taylor Ag) is an aerial applicator that is based at the Watford City Municipal Airport. By supporting the activities of this stationed aerial applicator, the airport contributes directly to the economic well-being of area farmers and ranchers.
Not only does the Watford City Municipal Airport provide agricultural services, it provides critical emergency services that the community relies upon.
“Our critical services are not only the air ambulances, but include the doctors that fly in to provide medical services,” added Taylor. “I’d say the air ambulance fly in at least every week, sometimes multiple times in a week. It’s an important service. And it’s not so much an economic benefit as much as it is a service to our community.”
According to the report, as part of the state study, the McKenzie County Healthcare Systems (MCHS) Hospital reported that the Watford City Municipal Airport is beneficial to the county healthcare system in several ways. They reported that they have executives from various healthcare systems and/or businesses that fly into Watford City to conduct meetings with personnel of the MCHS. The local healthcare system does not have their own helipad, thus the Watford City Municipal Airport is used to fly injured patients out to tertiary hospitals either by helicopter or fixed-wing transport.
When the results from the North Dakota Statewide Aviation Economic Impact Study were presented, Taylor said he was very surprised.
“I was surprised to see the results of this study for Watford City,” stated Taylor. “I was surprised to see there was a significant increase over the prior economic impact study that they conducted back in 2010. ”
In addition to the economic benefits the Watford City Municipal Airport has on this community, the benefits stretch statewide. The study shows that when all airports, aviation, military, and aerospace activities in North Dakota are considered:
• 32,200 jobs for all airport/aviation/aerospace-related activities account for an estimated eight percent of North Dakota’s total employment, which is estimated at 413,000.
• The $3.7 billion in total annual output for all airport/aviation/aerospace-related activities accounts for an estimated seven percent of North Dakota’s Real Gross State Product estimated at $48.2 billion.
The next time you look at our small airport in Watford City, hopefully you’ll see all the positive economic benefits our community thrives off of, many of which we never even think about.