History of New Century AirCenter
In 1941, county-owned land located in southwest Johnson County was dedicated to the former Federal Civil Aeronautics Authority for an auxiliary airport. Construction was underway when World War II broke out in December 1941, and the land was sold to the Navy for the construction of the Olathe Naval Air Station.
The airbase facilities, built by 4,000 men at a cost of $13 million, served as headquarters for the Naval Air Transport Service, for flight training of Naval Air Cadets and as a Naval Air Technical Training Facility. Former astronaut and United States Senator, John Glenn, was in the first class to get his military wings in 1942 while long time game show host, Bob Barker, was in the second. As a stop over and re-fueling point for naval planes transporting officers, the Olathe Naval Air Station was a permanent home of approximately 1,000 service personnel and accounted for the fifth largest payroll in Greater Kansas City in 1948.
Today, the Johnson County Airports and resident businesses account for over 5,100 jobs and an annual economic impact of nearly $1.3 billion on the Kansas City metro area.
In addition to the Olathe Naval Air Station, 14 auxiliary fields were also constructed in the early 1940’s in surrounding areas to provide additional training opportunities. Morse Outlying Landing Field, one of the 14, was de-commissioned by the Navy in 1951, transferred to the City of Olathe, and renamed the Olathe Airport. In 1967, the Johnson County Airport Commission was formed as a result of a public perception that there was a need for a county-operated airport in Johnson County.
Later that year, the County purchased the Olathe Airport (now Executive Airport) from the City of Olathe for one dollar. In 1970, due to shrinking military budgets, and despite hosting each of the 4 branches of the armed forces during its history, the United States Navy de-commissioned the Olathe Naval Air Station as an active Navy installation.
A study by Midwest Research Institute evaluated and documented the feasibility of development of the airbase facility as a general aviation airport and industrial center. In the fall of 1973, the General Services Administration approved the transfer of 1,744 acres of this surplus property, 59 former naval buildings, a gymnasium and pool to Johnson County. The facility, under the operational control of the Airport Commission, was formally dedicated and renamed the Johnson County Industrial Airport.
Significant investment was made during the early years of the new county-owned facility to prepare itself as a successful airfield/industrial park. While demolition took place to remove some of the aging naval facilities and structures, a handful of small businesses leased space in some of the more functional buildings.
In 1975, Howell Mouldings, Inc. a manufacturer of wooden pallets relocated from Kansas City, Kansas to a former aircraft maintenance hangar at Industrial Airport. Today, United Manufacturing operates at the same location, has expanded numerous times, and employs approximately 40 people.
During the late 1970's the Airport Commission gained more authority in its business attraction efforts with the passage of State Legislation which authorized the issuance of revenue bonds for industrial development at Johnson County Industrial Airport. Following this, Olathe Manufacturing announced their relocation from Paola, Kansas to Industrial Airport in 1976, becoming the first company to lease land and construct a new building for industrial use.
Since then, 23 businesses have built new facilities using Industrial Revenue Bonds at New Century AirCenter.
Also during the mid to late 1970's, efforts were made to upgrade the airport facilities for commercial and general aviation activity. In 1976, a lease agreement with the airports first fixed based operator (FBO) was signed. In July 1978, the control tower was opened and in April 1979, an instrument landing system (ILS), which was commissioned by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), began operating at Industrial Airport. Starting in the late 1970’s and into the 1980’s, 90 county-owned airplane hangars were constructed at the New Century AirCenter and 128 county-owned airplane hangars at Executive Airport.
Today in total, the Johnson County Airport Commission owns 218 hangars and hosts 6 Fixed Base Operators, while operating the historically third and fourth busiest towered airports in the State of Kansas, New Century AirCenter and Executive Airport respectively.
A flurry of economic development activity during the late 1970's and early 1980's included investment by both large and small businesses at Industrial Airport. Paramount among the activity was the 1979 announcement by North Supply Corporation; a 472,000 square foot office building which was completed in 1982 and used for 40 years as a center of operations for North Supply/KGP, United Telecom, Sprint, Embarq and most recently, CenturyLink. By 1985, 46 private and public sector businesses employed 2,300 people at Industrial Airport.
Today, over 60 resident businesses occupy approximately 3 million square feet of space and employ nearly 5,000 people in the New Century Commerce Center.
Continued investment in infrastructure by Johnson County has been made to meet the needs of the resident businesses. The County inherited the Navy's self-maintained infrastructure complex that was designed to meet the needs of the Olathe Naval Air Station.
Not surprisingly, retrofitting 1940's–era infrastructure has not been without its challenges. During the early to mid-1990's Johnson County Industrial Airport was considered a "sleeping giant" in terms of economic development. The Airport Commission focused on updating and improving vital infrastructure to meet the needs of industry.
From rail, air and highway transportation logistics, to voice and data transfer, to reliable electric, water and sewer for high-tech manufacturing processing, resident businesses at the New Century Commerce Center benefit from state-of-the-art infrastructure.
The mid-1990's brought the beginnings of a new era for the former Olathe Naval Air Station. Positioning itself as the metro area's premier multimodal business park that will meet the needs of local, national and international business into the next millennium, the Airport Commission re-named the Johnson County Industrial Airport to New Century AirCenter.
With a tag line of "You'll Love the Approach," New Century AirCenter increased its local awareness to new levels. As the growth of Johnson County continued to push to the southwest along Interstate 35, New Century AirCenter was more than ever a premier business location for both small and large businesses.
In the early decades of the 2000’s, the Airport Commission put forth a significant investment in infrastructure with many streets, sewer lines and water pipes being replaced. Additionally, a plan was created to replace the aging T-Hangars as they surpassed their useful service lives.
The first five hangars were replaced in 2018 following a major windstorm at Executive Airport, resulting in the largest property loss for any part of Johnson County Government in the last 25 years.
From 2018 through 2021, Executive Airport abandoned a 1950’s era wastewater system in favor of a connection with Johnson County Wastewater, replaced the runway with a fully reconstructed concrete runway, rebuilt Taxiway Alpha, and bid out the rebuild of Taxiway Bravo to be completed in 2022.
From 2015 through 2022, plans were put into place to convert over 800 acres of land into economic development production with the assistance of Van Trust Real Estate in an effort to generate land rents and fee for services to support airport operations with the goal of keeping the overall Airport Commission as financially self-sufficient as possible.
In 2021 the business park was renamed to better describe the inclusive nature of current and future resident businesses. After careful consideration and a thoughtful approach, the park was coined the “New Century Commerce Center”.
The Airport Commission strongly supports efforts to keep the public engaged in the history and vitality of the area, through maintaining static displays at the Navy Pond Park, to sponsoring neighboring events and partnering with the Commemorative Airforce to host a number of airshows.
However, the largest event to date was the 4th of July weekend, 2021, where more than 50,000 people enjoyed an airshow featuring the United States Navy Blue Angels and the United States Air Force Thunderbirds performing together for only the 4th time in airshow history!