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Aviation school is a positive change for airport, county

May 27, 2010

It's always been an economic development pickle: You can't attract quality companies without an educated work force. But educated workers won't stick around unless quality companies already are in place.

At Hagerstown Regional Airport, it looks as if there soon will be a mutual meeting of employers and employees, following the announcement that the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics will open an aviation-technician school in the Top Flight Air Park early next year.

When county officials pushed for a $60 million runway expansion a decade ago, the heat was on to produce results to justify the expense. The aviation school is the latest in a string of successes that might convince early doubters of the project's worthiness.

Before the runway was even completed, the county reported that the number of jobs at the airport had nearly doubled, to more than 1,000. Now, it is home to important aviation companies such as Sierra Nevada Corp., AgustaWestland North America Inc. and, for the time being at least, Northrop Grumman Corp.

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Getting to the heart of the matter, airport business development manager Greg Larsen said, "I can imagine all graduates from this program potentially having the opportunity to work here at the airport."

That's what economic development should be all about - training the work force and then providing the jobs that will allow our talented people to stay here in Washington County, if they so choose.

Aviation is a solid piece of the puzzle, and given our history, it is fitting that we maintain our tie to the past when Hagerstown-built planes from Fairchild ruled the skies.

Airplane maintenance jobs provide a good living and are a significant contribution to the local tax base. They offer a rewarding opportunity to some young people who might otherwise have become trapped in a less rewarding career.

And best of all, the airport will turn a downward work force spiral into an upward spiral: The more workers we train, the more aviation companies will be likely to open up shop here - creating the need for more aviation students.

The commissioners and airport officials are to be congratulated for seeing the runway expansion through and making it into something more than a great swath of empty macadam.

Among the positive changes at the airport, the aviation school has to be ranked as one of the more important to come along in recent history.

Economically speaking, this has been a rough couple of years in Washington County, as has been the case just about everywhere. When a light such as this is able to shine in the middle of ongoing financial doldrums, it points to a bright future when the economy eventually gets back on its feet.

As such, we send our thanks both to the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics and to all those who worked so hard to make the school a soon-to-be reality.

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