Theresa Freed: [00:00] On this week's episode, you'll hear from Johnson County leaders who are invested in growing the economy with the help of strong aviation facilities. Find out the importance to businesses to be able to fly in and out of the County with ease. Also learn how the airports here are making great improvements that will steer aviation jobs to Johnson County.
Announcer: [00:18] Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything. Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.
Theresa Freed: [00:34] Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go, I'm your host, Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. Today we're talking about Johnson County airports and economic development in our region. To get us started on that conversation, I'm joined by Aaron Otto. He's the executive director of the Johnson County Airport Commission. Thanks for being here.
Aaron Otto: [00:51] Thank you for having me.
Theresa Freed: [00:53] All right. Well not everyone is familiar with the fact that we even have airports probably. So can you start off by just telling us where our airports are, what they are and what they do?
Aaron Otto: [01:01] Sure. Thank you. So the airports in Johnson County, we have two of them in. The first question I usually get is why you have two, and that dates back to the, both of these airports were part of the Olathe Naval air system station, the Olathe Naval Air Station system. So this was a place that was training pilots starting in 1942 in preparation for World War II and amongst some of the amazing alumni from that region, and that era, were John Glenn who was in the first class who got his military wings at Olathe Naval Air Station, which is located between Gardner and Olathe down in southwest Johnson County. The second class included Bob Barker from The Price is Right. So a number of a number of Americans went through and became pilots from that experience. Johnson County executive, which is at the corner of 151st and Pflumm was also a feeder airport to that installation. And it served as an opportunity for people practice, takeoff and landings, especially on a carrier basis. And it was decommissioned in 1951 went to the city of Olathe and in 1967 the city of Olathe turned it over to Johnson County. And that's when Johnson County got into the airport business with what is now New Century to follow in 1973. So that's a little bit about the infrastructure and why we ended up with a couple of airports we have in southern Johnson County. The way they're structured today is that we have now two of the busiest airports in the state. New century sits at about 58,000 operations a year, which makes it the third busiest. And Johnson County Executive is climbing. We've had both some work done on the facilities and the runway that have hampered down the numbers a little bit the last two years. But I expect Johnson County Executive to be back at about 45,000 takeoffs and landings a year and gaining, which would make it the fourth busiest in the state. So you put our two together and really we're only a few thousand behind the, the leader in the state, which is Wichita, that has commercial airport service.
Theresa Freed: [02:41] When we were participating in Citizens Academy recently, I know that you'd talked a little bit about the history of, of one of the buildings in that it is one of the oldest or the oldest building or facility in the County. Is that right?
Aaron Otto: [02:53] So we still use a lot of the facilities and infrastructure that came with the Olathe Naval Air Station. So one of them is the admin building for the Johnson County Airport Commission was the original admin building for the Olathe Naval Air Station. The water pump building is the same. There's a number of the maintenance facilities the same and so they're the old classic red brick art deco design. And they've got definitely very good bones and I hope, my guess is, they'll be used many decades in the future. What I failed to mention earlier is that the airport is also broken down to what many people may not expect, but we mentioned the two business airports in the state. But in addition to that, we inherited a water system from Olathe Naval Air. So we still maintain and provide water to all the customers and tenants at New Century, which is about 65 businesses from all over the spectrum of industry. And that's about a million gallons of water a day goes through that plant distribution system. We also maintain a six mile short line railroad. It's hard to believe, but Johnson County does manage a railroad system with engineers on staff and they are the ones who will do that last mile delivery for product and goods for people in the business park when BNSF will do a delivery to Olathe Naval or the former Olathe Naval Air Station now New Century. And then lastly is the business park. As I mentioned earlier, about 65 tenants call New Century Business Park home ranging anywhere from eight employees to some businesses that are in the several hundreds because of running three shifts out there. But quite the diversity of product being made from many different major food products to wood shingles to lots of iron projects, but also just even a professional services like graphic design work and different firms like that.
Theresa Freed: [04:26] Okay. And so that kind of touches on my next question about economic development. Obviously that area is very key to economic development in Johnson County and it's important that we continue to expand or develop that further. And can you talk a little bit about that?
Aaron Otto: [04:43] So one of the ways to generate dollars to make the airport is self-sufficient as possible is through long-term land leases. And that those are cases where a business will come and develop on County land and pay an annual rent per foot for that space. Or they may buy services from the airport like water or rail. So that's how that, all those different areas, that may sound odd, why is there a railroad, why is there a water system? It's all to support the business park, which turns around and supports the incredible infrastructure needs of running two of the busiest airports in the state. So we need to continue to look at opportunities for economic development at New Century. And a couple of them that are taking place that we're very proud of this last year in 2019 would include our first new private hangar being built in over 20 years. That's a huge accomplishment being done by Butler National. Also this year we received the first in our state, it's called an AEROready certification. And what that is is the group comes in and looks at do you have the workforce and the infrastructure to support aviation-related jobs. And we were able to be the first to get that certification and believe that will help being a way to kind of when you're out prospecting potential tenants, they will already have seen some of this due diligence and site work's already been done to make them interested hopefully in expanding their services into Johnson County and into New Century. I might also mention that we're about to open and just have opened the new runway at Johnson County Executive Airport. That was a replacement runway for what was there, but the, what was there done its time. It was 25 years old and lived at service life and obviously the primary runway is the backbone to an airport. And without that, obviously you're not functioning. And, and you may think again, we've talked a lot about economic development. There's a lot of both corporate executive travel, both domiciled at either airport or that fly in and use the airports. But there's a number of people in Johnson County that own private aircraft that either have them stored at one of the two airports or just use them as a takeoff and landing spot as well. So we're excited to have that new, almost just over $6 million project that hopefully will last for the next 25 years in place at Johnson County Executive. I might also mention. Another investment that's been made there this year is a multimillion dollar investment in the wastewater system. And so we're excited to have a new system put in place that will be really in place for the next seven to eight decades and a good investment in infrastructure in Johnson County Executive Airport.
Theresa Freed: [06:57] Okay. That's great information. And if people are interested in developing business out there on those grounds, how can they start that process?
Aaron Otto: [07:06] Absolutely. So we're happy to talk cause one of the things that's we're looking forward to next year is that recently we've had the FAA release land owned by the County about 500 acres available for new development and it's acres that we'd be serving water to. We would potentially be rail-served. And so that's a lot of space contiguous space for development coming up in the future. And again, it's through that development that helps generate land rents to help pay for the airport's operation. So that's a good thing coming down the road. And really it's reaching out to myself as the airport director or we work very closely with our partners down in southwest Johnson County, in this case, the Southwest Johnson County Economic Development Corporation, which the airport helped start back in the early nineties to help any group either re-site into an existing building or to build from scratch on a Greenfield Site.
Theresa Freed: [07:51] Okay. Good information. And just last question here is, so say I am a plane enthusiast. I love aviation, but I can't afford to buy a plane myself. You can go out to the airport. Right? And just check it out and, and see all the different airplanes that are out there. Right.
Aaron Otto: [08:09] Absolutely. So a couple of ideas come to mind with that question and number one would be there is different ways to buy into a share. Now the airport commission doesn't own any aircraft. We do not do operations. But there are companies on site that do a share ownership of an aircraft or the potential of rental. There's lessons being taught at both airports, but I would also just mention if you put in One New Century Parkway, New Century, Kansas, you'll end up in the parking lot of the admin building. And if you come between four and six o'clock and bring your kids, your grandkids, nieces and nephews, you'll see quite the show of both departing corporate and private passenger aircraft or coming in back home. That's definitely the busiest time of the day is around dinner time.
Theresa Freed: [08:46] All right. Sounds like fun. And thank you very much for being with us. The Board of County Commissioners supports the growth and development of the airports and Commissioner Mike Brown serves as a liaison to the airport commission. He joins me now with more on the importance of the airports to the county. Thanks for being here, Commissioner Brown.
Mike Brown: [08:56] It's good to be with you.
Theresa Freed: [09:03] All right. Well, first off, can you talk a little bit about how you see the airport serving the community toward the goal of economic development?
Mike Brown: [09:09] The airports play a critical role, especially when it comes to Olathe and to the city of Gardner and Edgerton relative to the intermodal operations. The airports are a critical piece of the infrastructure and transit and play a huge role in what we do in Johnson County economic development wise.
Theresa Freed: [09:28] Okay. And I know that you've mentioned that you're a pilot and can you kind of talk about if that helps you in the business world?
Mike Brown: [09:42] Love to fly. Don't get to do it enough. But the understanding the terminology, understanding what operations looks like, how operations at an airport functions was a huge advantage. When I first became a commissioner and Chairman Eilert appointed me to be the liaison to the airport commission. At my first meeting I was up to speed and we were often running most of the members of the airport commission actually are also pilots. So there is not a lot of time has to be spent with covering terminology and explaining everyone understands where we're going and what we're trying to accomplish.
Theresa Freed: [10:17] And for us outsiders, what exactly does a commission do?
Mike Brown: [10:20] The airport commission is responsible for the governance and oversight of both airports, both Executive Airport in Olathe and at New Century Airport and oversees the operations and responsibility for maintenance of the, the the airports themselves.
Theresa Freed: [10:35] Okay. And so in terms of the, the airports you know, I'm sure lots of businesses use those airports on a regular basis and they probably value them in order to do their own business. So can you talk a little bit about why the airports are important to that process?
Mike Brown: [10:49] Absolutely I can the airports are critical in, in the overall because our airports, both new century in executive are the second and third busiest airports in the state of Kansas. So from that perspective, those airports are gateways not only to the rest of Kansas or the rest of the Midwest, but to all of America and to the whole planet. Global. Those are ports that allow our businesses to move executives and products in and out on a global basis.
Theresa Freed: [11:21] And are you seeing the airports as kind of a selling point for businesses that show interest in our area?
Mike Brown: [11:26] Absolutely. The airports are a huge key piece to the big companies that are involved with things going on at Edgerton, things in Overland Park. Those airports are very, very critical. It's important to those executives whose time is highly valuable for them to be able to move in and move back out of Kansas City in a hurry.
Theresa Freed: [11:42] Okay, that makes sense. And anything else you'd like to share with our listeners? Just about the, the value that the airports bring to our area.
Mike Brown: [11:48] I would, I would say that I couldn't be more proud of our airports. The investment, the resources, the human capital, the folks that are a part of our airport operations and in the part of the team that is in the background that is the County Manager's Office and the Board of County Commissioners to support we give to our airports is second to none. And we are all incredibly proud of the airports and what they represent in the way of Johnson County, Kansas.
Theresa Freed: [12:12] All right. Great information there and thanks for being with us.
Mike Brown: [12:14] Pleasure to be here.
Theresa Freed: [12:16] Continuing our conversation about economic development in Johnson County. I'm now joined by Greg Martinette. He's with the Southwest Johnson County economic development corporation. Thanks for being here.
Greg Martinette: [12:25] Thank you for having me.
Theresa Freed: [12:26] Okay. To start off with, can you talk a little bit about what economic development looks like in Johnson County? So what are we seeing in terms of trends?
Greg Martinette: [12:35] Well, the trend is the challenge that we all have in, in workforce. And that's a training, retaining and attracting workforce to our region. But it's, it's something that that every community across America is, has a challenge with right now. That along with our infrastructure, transportation and, and attracting higher-paying jobs is kind of what we all work on here in Johnson County.
Theresa Freed: [13:00] Okay. And what kind of businesses are doing particularly well in Johnson County or, and you know, what are you seeing in terms of any businesses showing interest and expense?
Greg Martinette: [13:08] Yeah. What Johnson County has such a diverse economy and it's it's a diverse community. And so, you know, we're seeing success with everything from, from high-tech to Class A office to logistics, manufacturing. It really is it's just a great economy here and they're, they're doing well in all areas.
Theresa Freed: [13:31] Okay. And I assume that's just because we have a good, strong workforce, which they can pull from.
Greg Martinette: [13:36] That's a big part of it. And it's just, we have good communities and good school districts and good transportation and good infrastructure. It's still always a challenge, but, but we're better than a lot of other places in those regards and that allows us to, but specifically we're seeing obviously a big trend in logistics especially in the southwest part of the County. And cold storage seems to be a hot one right now with all the different trends in, in food delivery. It's everybody's looking for cold storage and it's something that's, that's, it's expensive to build on a speculative basis. So it's a challenge for us.
Theresa Freed: [14:16] Okay. And I know that the, the airports are always encouraging more businesses to, to set up shop there. How do you see the, the airports playing into the development of our, our region?
Greg Martinette: [14:27] Yeah, absolutely. We've got a big opportunity with New Century Air Center in that any plane in the world can land there. So...long runway. And we've got about a thousand acres that are, that's readily available and along with about 300 to 500 acres that are right on the runways. So we're going to be going after aerospace type companies. The, not only companies that help with the building of aircraft and aviation related, but also companies that can use the runway. So we can be a truly intermodal facility with air, truck and train. Okay. And that's a very unique for the area. It's unique in the country. There's really, and we were just awarded AEROready certification, which will tell aviation companies and executives that we have exactly what they need to be successful.
Theresa Freed: [15:29] Okay, that's perfect. And if there is a business who has interest or that has interest in our area, what do you tell them? Where, where do you start?
Greg Martinette: [15:30] Yeah, they're. Number one. Every community in Johnson County has an excellent economic development person than most of them are at the Chamber or affiliated with the Chamber. And they all do a great job and we all work well together and we help each other out and we forward leads when they come, if they don't fit our areas so that we can keep it in Johnson County first and foremost. But if you know, if you're looking for one place to start, we have a website called businessmoveshere.com And it's a great place. You can get ahold of me and we can get you to going in the right direction.
Theresa Freed: [16:02] All right, that's some great information. Thanks for being with us today.
Greg Martinette: [16:06] Thank you very much.
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