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In addition to the flight services it already has, local leaders believe Southern Illinois Airport can fly in a healthy amount of economic development.

Jeff Doherty, executive director of Jackson Growth Alliance, said the economic development group is looking at bringing some type of business to the Southern Illinois Airport, especially one like Jet Aviation St. Louis in Cahokia. The business at St. Louis Downtown Airport is owned by General Dynamics and provides services such as airplane maintenance; electrical, mechanical and structural engineering and interior design. According to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, the business employs about 1,200 people.

"It's an example of the type of businesses that are attractive to what we want to do," Doherty said.

One thing that can help attract those businesses is the fact that the airport is home to one of the best aviation schools in the nation. SIU President Glenn Poshard said the university's aviation department has graduates working for high-profile companies across the country, including more than 800 at Boeing and 500 with American Airlines.

"We probably have as large a mark on the industry as any university in the nation," Poshard said.

Another helpful factor is that SIU aviation will soon be moving into the Transportation Education Center at the airport soon, and so will one of the top automotive schools in the nation, which can also serve as a magnet for interested businesses.

Poshard said the university and the region are symbiotic and he hopes SIU can be a full partner in success in the airport area.

"I think that area is going to be one of the best economic growth areas in the next few years," Poshard said.

Southern Illinois Airport manager Gary Shafer said businesses could also be a good source of employment for students who graduate from the program.

"It will certainly bring in high-paying jobs," Shafer said.

Shafer said a General Electric business built near Auburn University was drawn to that school's aviation department.

"Any time you can hold up the reputation of an academic program, it certainly helps," Shafer said.

Shafer said airport administration is working with Jackson Growth Alliance and always looking for companies that would be interested in setting up shop.

Doherty said the airport is "going to be a growth area that's going to produce good results for this area" and most importantly can give the region a much-welcomed economic boost.

"If you get something like that, you're creating jobs - high-paying jobs," Doherty said.

Multiple calls to Jet Aviation were not returned, nor were efforts to contact Chamber of Commerce members in Cahokia.



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