Tim Unruh
July 7, 2021

The year 2020 was filled with economic challenges due to the global pandemic.
Salina Regional Airport and Airport Industrial Center took some hits as well, but survived and emerged thriving as this year unfolds.
The area that dominates western Salina demonstrated meaningful economic growth during a time of difficulty.
A look at the numbers shows an increase of nearly $130 million (just shy of $1.3 billion) in the center’s total economic impact on Saline County in 2020, according to a study from the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University.
“If you’ve been following what’s going on at the (Salina) Airport Authority, they’ve obviously brought in some new business, which have brought employees with them,” said Preston Gilson, Ph.D, of El Dorado, senior policy fellow at the Docking Institute. He prepared SAA’s economic impact summary report, and has done so for several years.
Data was collected from survey responses of tenants in the airport and airport industrial center, and public and private data sources. The airport and airport industrial center is home to more than 100 businesses and organizations.
The business activity “results in spillover, or multiplier effects,” Gilson said, influencing expansion of ancillary businesses.
Expansion breeds expansion, he said, mentioning the Schwan’s Company new 400,000 square-foot expansion and others in the airport industrial center, and not far away, the Salina Downtown Revitalization.
“One of the things about good things happening is that they are contagious,” Gilson said. “One person sees someone doing something and they think ‘I can expand my business.’ People feel a bit more confident as we’re coming out of the pandemic, that they can do these kinds of things even better.”
Business on the whole was repressed, he said, but the affect at the airport and airport industrial center wasn’t as great.
“Most of the people working at the airport and airport industrial center are essential workers. They were not laid off,” Gilson said. “The pandemic didn’t have as major of an effect as the hotel business, restaurant business and travel business.
The airport and airport industrial center grabbed a slightly bigger piece of Saline County’s Gross Regional Product, from 41 percent to 42 percent over 2019, growing job numbers from 5,996 to 7,005 last year; and from 14 percent to 17.6 percent of the county’s employment.
Average annual wages went from $58,000 to $58,450, while annual hourly pay rose from $28 to $28.10.
Those figures “show how critical this area is to all of Salina and Saline County,” said Mitch Robinson, executive director of the Salina Community Economic Development Organization.
“The continued economic growth shows the importance of the Salina Regional Airport and Airport Industrial Center,” he said. “It’s a major driver for our economy.”