BLOUNTVILLE — The land at the Tri-Cities Airport Authority Aerospace Park is vast with sprawling stretches of green, East Tennessee acreage stretching in all directions. The only thing bigger might be the opportunity for the site and its surrounding areas.
“The park is substantially complete,” said Mark Canty, the TCAA director of business development. “A lot of money over the years has gone into it. It’s just now to the point where the entire park is ready for prospects to come in and hopefully build and create jobs in the Tri-Cities.”
Aerospace park is a 160-acre development site with an 8,000-foot runway adjacent to Tri-Cities Airport. The park was designed to serve as a hub for aircraft-related maintenance, repair, and overhaul companies.
The park has been flattened, graded and ready for aeronautical businesses since September, Canty told the Times News. The goal is to welcome aeronautical businesses built to operate on a runway that will also offer higher-paying jobs in the region, Canty added. The aerospace park is projected to create 1,500 to 2,000 jobs once the site is fully operational with businesses throughout.
“The type of jobs that would locate to the aerospace park are typically higher paying than most manufacturing jobs,” Canty said. “It’s higher-skilled (jobs) and higher pay. So they are desirable types of jobs to bring into the community.”
The property could also bring other opportunities to the Tri-Cities. The airport property includes acres of land surrounding the airport with views of Boone Lake that could be used for hotel or housing developments.
“We’ve only recently started pushing the non-aeronautical development areas we have,” Canty said. “A lot of airports have hotels on airport property. That’s one thing we’ve batted around a little bit. We’ve also got land with a view of Boone Lake that we are reaching out to low-to-medium density housing developers to see if there would be an opportunity to place apartments or condominiums on that site.”
Aerospace park is also home to the Northeast State Community College hangar that offers students added opportunities through the college’s aviation program.
“That’s a big benefit,” Canty said, “as far as what we’re trying to do with recruiting those jobs.”
The site has long been considered a “regional effort.” Kingsport, Johnson City, Bristol, Sullivan County and Washington County put forth $8.5 million to transform the space into a business-ready site situated at the halfway point between Miami and New York.
“It’s a good opportunity for everyone to participate in a truly regional project for economic development,” Canty said.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, created challenges for the site, which officially broke ground in 2020.
Canty said the pandemic has slowed some promotion efforts, but trade shows and opportunities to market the park have increased.
From here, the business development at the park isn’t aiming for a specific timeframe, Canty said, but marketing and promotion efforts are ramping up as the hunger to fill the spacious park remains.
“I don’t necessarily have a timeline for when that first tenant will sign on the dotted line,” Canty said, “but we’re doing all we can to generate that interest within that industry sector. Everybody wants it to happen as soon as possible.”
While TCAA representatives head off to trade shows to attract more businesses, airport officials aim to add signage that will likely resemble the stone inlay seen at Tri-Cities Airport. Plans are also underway to landscape the entrances to enhance the overall look of the aerospace park.
“We want to make it inviting,” TCAA Executive Director Gene Cossey said at the group’s February meeting.
The TCAA also recently approved an agreement with Holt Consulting to help attract businesses to the aerospace park for $100,000 plus a potential $25,000 lump sum for successful recruitments.
“This is one more tool for our toolbox,” Cossey said.
Tri-Cities Airport has focused on more than just supporting the aerospace park, though.
The TCAA put together an air service development task force along with the help of Mead and Hunt, the architectural and engineering firm the TCAA began working with in August.
One of the main goals for Tri-Cities Airport is to grow its air service offerings while holding community stakeholder meetings to gain support and potentially grow air services in the Tri-Cities.
“Our biggest challenge right now is our demand far exceeds our capacity,” Cossey said at the TCAA’s February meeting. “Our demand is double our capacity. So there’s always going to be someone that wants to fly out of this area and can’t.”
In 2021, the TCAA released its corporate travel survey to the public and a vacation destination survey to help give the consultants and airport officials an idea where locals aim to jet off to.
Mostly, however, the work with Mead and Hunt centers on learning from and meeting with members of the community and with various regional stakeholders.
“Part of the airport’s focus over the last year has been trying to get the community engaged and involved,” said Kristi Haulsee, TCAA director of marketing and air service development.
“We are trying to gather data from business and community. We’re really just trying to get community involvement.”
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