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Airports have a major economic impact on Southern Illinois, according to a study commissioned by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The two largest facilities, Carbondale’s Southern Illinois Airport and Marion’s Williamson County Regional Airport, pump $82.6 million and $22.7 million, respectively, into the region’s economy. Airports in Benton, Cairo, Harrisburg, Metropolis, Pinckneyville-Du Quoin and Mount Vernon combined for an additional $27.8 million.

Susan Shea, IDOT’s aeronautics director, said the study showed Southern Illinois airports are doing well and the region has the optimum number of facilities.

“I think we have the right size, we have the right locations and it’s the right time,” said Shea, an SIU alumna. “We are right, right now. Everybody wants more, but everybody is holding their own.”

SI Airport has a total jobs impact of 557 workers and $20.5 million in payroll when on-site, construction, visitor and multiplier effect employment were combined. The airport is home to a National Guard armory and SIU’s Transportation Education Center, among other tenants.

Tenants help growth

“The tenants at the airport are our active core,” SI Airport manager Gary Shafer said. “To the extent we can use their presence to grow or attract further business to the facility, we will. Some, like SIU’s programs, offer real leverage opportunities to targeted industries.”

Shea said the airport must grow in the future, and further development was in the facility’s master plan.

The airport works with Jackson Growth Alliance and other agencies to attract more tenants. Jackson Growth Alliance and the Jackson County Board assisted in securing a matching grant for a study on needed improvements for the airport to be a more desirable location for businesses.

“That’s going to help us really zero in on some businesses we would want to market to and attract to be successful,” Jackson Growth Alliance Director Jeff Doherty said.

Williamson County’s airport was directly and indirectly responsible for 195 jobs and $6.6 million in payroll, the study showed. The airport saw its economic impact more than double since IDOT’s last study in the mid 1990s.

Airport Director Doug Kimmel said capital improvements would spur growth.

“On average, we do about $1 million in construction work out here each year,” Kimmel said. “Right now, we’re prepping for what will ultimately be a $10 million new terminal project.”

Shea said, “It’s a matter of lining the money up and getting the go-ahead. They’re very serious about needing to replace that terminal.”

Smaller ports

Although some airports such as Benton’s and Cairo’s do not have eye-popping impact figures — both created less than $1 million — Shea said those and similar facilities were necessary to bring in people for hunting or outdoor activities tourism.

Shea said the state’s budget woes should not impact IDOT’s ability to assist airport expansion, from runways to terminals, because 95 percent of IDOT’s funding comes from the federal government. However, the federal government is also under financial stress, which means growth would slow and there would have to be prudence in identifying and prioritizing projects.

“While we don’t expect a lot of growth, we expect to be able to sustain with the same kind of programs we have,” Shea said.

In total, airports throughout the state were responsible for more than 337,000 jobs, $12.8 billion in payroll and $40.9 billion in total output, according to the study.

On Twitter: @DW_Norris_SI

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