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W.Va. airport explores marketing options

September 10, 2000

W.Va. airport explores marketing options



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

photso: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer

EWV Regional AirportMARTINSBURG, W. Va. - Development could soon take off at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport.

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Local officials are seeking bids to better promote the airport, hoping to build on the foundation of economic development already created at 1,005-acre site off U.S. 11 at Pikeside.

A promotional video, brochure and web site all are being discussed by officials of Martinsburg, Berkeley County, the Berkeley County Development Authority and the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport Authority that oversees the airport.

EWV Regional Airport"You've got to let it be known what we've got," said Berkeley County Commissioner John E. Wright, a former member of the Airport Authority. "I just feel the timing is right and this is just a good place to be. It's an inland port. I predict in the next 10 years it will just take off."

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"We have a lot of assets," said Rick Wachtel, chairman of the Airport Authority since 1988, as he led a group of Martinsburg officials on a tour of the grounds last week.

Among those assets:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> The longest runway in the state at 7,000 feet, sitting on the largest airport acreage in the state.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> More than 100 acres with sewer, water, road access and fiber-optics capabilities ready for companies. Another 300 acres could be developed.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> A long-time Air National Guard unit with 350 full-time employees, about 1,200 with the part-timers who come in to train. The guard is a key player in maintaining the airport and pumps about $90 million to $100 million into the local economy annually, said Col. Jesse Thomas, commander of the 167th Air National Guard Unit. n Three major companies already in place: Sino-Swearingen, which builds corporate- size jets at $4.2 million a copy and expects to have 250 employees building them in Martinsburg by the end of 2001; Tiger Aircraft that builds a single-prop plane for $219,500 and is preparing for 200 employees to assemble them; and Schwab Company, which is a receiving and distribution center for clothing, primarily Ralph Lauren. It also employs over 200 people, with more expected as they expand.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> A $23 million radar system that will soon be operating at full strength.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Airplane hangers that fill up as fast as they are built.

Wachtel estimates the replacement value of the airport at $800-$900 million. And although prospects for new companies and jobs are routine - Wachtel said two are considering property now - getting the word out is considered essential.

"It's been very minimal in the past," said airport Manager Bill Walkup.

Berkeley County Administrator Deborah Hammond said the idea is to get everybody working together to bring people to the airport to see what's available and meet the government officials.

"It's a good economic development tool," she said of the joint marketing effort.

But she and other officials said their posture will not change - they will not take any company at any cost.

"Things are going good," Wachtel said. "But we don't want to grow too quickly. And the growth we want is quality industrial jobs. We've been very careful." They have turned down companies in the past and will only lease land to keep control over it, he said.

County officials will visit company headquarters and plants "if there is any question" the company might raise concerns, Hammond said.

Bids are due on the marketing plan by Sept. 21.

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