One of Sussex County government’s most ambitious efforts to spur economic development and job creation in the region is currently underway in Georgetown.
The county broke ground last summer on the first of two runway expansions planned at the Sussex County Airport off of Rudder Lane.
Each of the two phases will add 500 feet of runway, eventually bringing the total length of the landing surface to 6,000 feet, enabling larger aircraft to use the facility, which currently logs about 40,000 takeoffs and landings a year.
The total $25 million project, slated for completion sometime around 2017, is expected to have an immediate impact on job creation in Georgetown, while also helping Sussex County market itself for future economic growth.
“Our airport supports a wide range of business throughout the county, including agriculture, manufacturing, retail, tourism and recreation,” Airport Manager Jim Hickin said. “This expansion will allow us to continue supporting those areas on an even broader scale.”
County officials say the runway extensions will translate into more jobs, particularly for the 17 businesses at the adjacent Airport Industrial Park, which currently employ about 1,000 people.
One of the biggest beneficiaries would be industrial park tenant PATS Aircraft Systems, which builds and installs auxiliary fuel systems and custom interiors in private aircraft.
Currently, the airport runway can handle aircraft up to a Boeing 737. But with the addition of another 1,000 feet of runway, aircraft as large as a Boeing 757 would be able to land there.
That would allow PATS to expand its client base, which could mean an additional 40 to 50 jobs on top of its current workforce of about 350.
“The initial runway expansion will provide a greater safety margin for the pilots and allow planes to leave here heavier,” explained Mark Ryan, PATS’ vice president of Boeing business jets and hangar programs. “But it’s that second expansion that will mean we can work on larger planes. We also have shovel-ready plans to add more hangers to store those planes, so it’s a pretty big deal for us.”
The runway expansion also will have an impact on economic development beyond the industrial park, according to Sussex County Economic Development Director Julie Wheately.
“By increasing the size of the aircraft that can use the airport, we will be able to expand on the types of businesses entities that we can encourage to locate here,” she said.
The larger runway could be a boon for attracting businesses unrelated to aviation, she said.
“It helps to have a place where business executives can fly into, and 15 minutes later, get to where they need to be,” she said. “They also can fly in clients or customers in their supply chain a whole lot easier than if they had to land in a regional airport farther away or one of the commercial airports in Philadelphia or Baltimore.”
Page 2 of 2 - Wheatley said having those business leaders travel in and out of Georgetown also benefits the county seat.
“It allows them to see what a nice, friendly community Georgetown is while eating or shopping here during their travels,” she said. “And that’s another way we’re able to expand the community’s presence across national and international markets.”
The first phase of the project, which will add 500 feet of runway, is slated for completion this summer, with the federal government picking up most of the $4.45 million tab.
The second, 500-foot addition, which is anticipated to cost about $20 million and involve a reconfiguration of Park Avenue, is currently awaiting funding.