Collaboration between county, city can create aviation-related jobs
Everyone can agree that Oshkosh is the Aviation Capital of the World. We see this every day and experience it in a big way once a year during the EAA AirVenture when people from all over the globe journey to Oshkosh.
Over the years, Winnebago County has invested in the necessary infrastructure at Wittman Regional Airport to enable us to claim this global distinction. This investment has led many to believe that we have all of the components to transform Wittman Regional Airport into a year-round global hub for not only sport and general aviation, but to leverage new aviation business development. However, to attract aviation-related business to the airport, proximity to an airport is vital. An aviation business park is an ideal solution.
To realize this solution, we need land. Wittman Regional Airport currently has less than seven acres on three separate parcels available for development. Fortunately, there are currently two properties (totaling about 195 acres) for sale adjacent to the southeastern end of Wittman Regional Airport that would need to be acquired by Winnebago County.
Our county is well positioned to attract aviation-related business with the excellent facilities at the airport and the world headquarters of EAA, the skilled and hard-working labor force, and other aviation businesses and supply chain companies already here. We are positioned well to attract and support smaller sport aircraft manufacturers.
Economic development is crucial to Winnebago County’s future. According to an economic impact study done by the University of Wisconsin-Extension, the aviation business park could create 1,619 jobs and generate $138 million in total income, $343 million in increased sales and $8.4 million in local government revenue.
This is an opportunity to leverage available resources to invest in our future economic growth. The county’s purchase of the land, we believe, is an excellent investment in our future. The cost of this land is approximately $3.2 million. While Winnebago County will have to take the lead in this acquisition, there is a very strong likelihood that the county would be reimbursed for most of this investment. Wittman Regional Airport has petitioned the Wisconsin DOT Bureau of Aeronautics for 97.5 percent reimbursement with 95 percent of the purchase price coming from the FAA and 2.5 percent from the state, leaving Winnebago County to pay 2.5 percent of the purchase price or $80,000. One may argue that the FAA and state funds are still taxpayers’ money. However, in this case, these funds come from aviation user fees in the form of fuel surcharges and commercial airline fees that are set aside specifically for the purposes described.
As with any petition, there are no guarantees. However, Winnebago County has an excellent track record due, in part, to our reputation as a world-class aviation center. Past land acquisitions by the county for the airport have been funded by the FAA and the state up to 97.5 percent. The most recent acquisition (Gerstmeyer farm) in the early 2000s was funded through a reimbursement from the FAA and the state, with those funds coming within two years of the acquisition.
Strengthening this proposal is the partnership with the city of Oshkosh. The city will establish a TIF district to defray the costs of putting in the necessary utilities, roads and storm water management facilities. The city’s expenditure will be recouped through the increased property tax generated by development of the land. The $6 million investment by the city is the kind of partnership we need between units of government.
While it may take some time to fill the park, the community has great experience with this type of development. A little more than 20 years ago, the Southwest Industrial Park in Oshkosh was farmland, and today its 800 acres is home to companies like Bemis, 4imprint, Miles Kimball and many others, employing 3,500 people and having an assessed value of more than $150 million.
On April 19, the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors will be considering this land acquisition. We see tremendous benefit to this proposal. With the county taking the lead, in partnership with the city of Oshkosh, we will be taking a quantum step forward to realizing this vision, further establishing our place as the leader in the aviation community.
John Casper is president and CEO of the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce.
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