What does the business do?
The airport is operated by the Jasper County Airport Authority, a local government body that was established by Jasper County Council and Jasper County Commissioners at the end of 2011 to be effective 2012 to manage the airport and promote aviation locally. The airport authority is made up of five members with ties to Jasper County, including board president David Pettet, a local farmer; board vice president Sean Yallaly, a local investor and Edward Jones Financial Advisor; secretary/treasurer W. Craig Jackson, owner of several local businesses, including Jackson Funeral, Fountain Stone Theaters and Rensselaer Septic; member Allen Mushett, retired USAF, retired anesthesiologist and active Lions and Rotary member; and member Kimberlie DeWees, local farmer and business owner of several businesses including Vision Ag. The airport hired airport manager Ray Seif at the end of 2016 to manage the operation, development, and growth of the airport. Ray has a Master of Aeronautical Science degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and has close to two decades of aviation, aviation risk management, and airport experience.
What was the impetus for opening this business?
Research has shown that airports are the economic engine for the community. When Jasper County Council and JC Commissioners established the airport authority on August 16, 2011, they did so in the interest of promoting aviation in Jasper County. Since that time and with the support of city and county officials, the Jasper County Airport Authority has been able to complete several infrastructure improvements with several projects in the works aimed at improving infrastructure, growing operations, and attracting outside investment into the community.
What is the best thing about being located in Rensselaer?
Rensselaer is a very warm and welcoming community that is business and civic minded. It has been a pleasure learning about the needs and serving the citizens of Rensselaer, Remington, and Wheatfield.
What is the biggest challenge?
Our biggest challenge is properly communicating our services and value to the community. Airports and aviation as a whole can sometimes be looked at as the rich person’s fun activity. Community members may not see the value the airport brings to them specifically. Value such as: the aerial applicators/crop dusters that use the airport to help our local farmers have the best crop possible; the occasional seed company that flies in to check out local farms and operations; the occasional air ambulance that flies in to transport the critically injured that may not survive other forms of transportation; local farms that use aviation to bring executives and customers in for business; or local businesses that fly out to support their business activities. The largest employers in the county use aviation to support their business activities. Research has shown that a single business jet based at an airport can have an economic impact of $2.5 million on a community and that businesses that use aviation outperform similar businesses that don’t by nearly 25%. A 2012 study conducted by Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) shows that Indiana airports contribute $14.1 billion in total economic output in addition to creating 69,149 jobs. INDOT also found that Jasper County Airport specifically impacted 29 jobs and had nearly $2.47 million local economic impact. There are numerous indications that show those figures may be much higher now than in 2012. Communicating this information properly to the community has been a challenge.
When is your busiest time of the year?
The airport’s busiest time of year for operations is typically spring, summer, and fall. Winter is normally busy on the administrative side with numerous reports being due in addition to planning for various outreach activities.
What is the most popular thing you sell/service you provide?
We have numerous outreach activities throughout the year including free training for local first responders, free career day and open house events, free aviation summer camp for area youth, and free pilot safety training. We also recently purchased an aircraft that is available for rental and instruction.
The airport is home to nationally-renowned maintenance shop Excel Air Services. Excel brings customers in from all over the US. The airport recently added a second maintenance shop operator called Von’s Aircraft Service. Von’s services are very complimentary to Excel’s offerings and has been a great addition to the airport. We are constantly looking for other operations to help grow our offerings.
We currently have extremely competitive fuel pricing that brings traffic in to the community. 2019 fuel sales were 45% higher than any other year on record. That translates to higher traffic for the airport; traffic that uses the airport’s courtesy car to go into town for lunch, shopping, lodging, and numerous other activities.
What is a less popular item/service you would recommend?
We’ve hosted several Tunes on the Tarmac charity concerts where 100% of proceeds support local charities/causes. These concerts have varying levels of success and support. I wouldn’t mind having more of these if there is a local need and someone willing to help drum up support.
What is the thing you most like to do as part of your business?
Share passion for aviation with others, showing how aviation can be extremely fun and rewarding.
What is the biggest misconception about your business?
During our effort to communicate the full value the airport brings to the community, we sometimes encounter a few misconceptions associated with our future goals and motivations. We’ve heard that the airport is going for a land grab or that the airport’s motivations should consider the county’s needs first. In reality, we have tried to communicate our vision through transparency. Our board meetings are open to the public. Our board meeting minutes, resolutions and ordinances are available on our website. We’ve discussed our plans with county officials during a few meetings and during budget selection and approval time. We’ve discussed our plans at a few speaking events and are always open to meeting with individuals and discussing our goals and vision for the community. We’ve reached out to local leadership and local businesses to insure that we understand their needs and are able to better accommodate those needs. We’ve reached out to struggling local intuitions such as St. Joe to see how we can help bring them back to operation. We’ve introduced new transportation modes into the community with a shuttle service that runs between Indianapolis, Lafayette, and Chicago now being able to have Jasper County Airport as a stop. We have potential limo and national car rental chain that is able to also serve the community’s needs, in addition to also supporting our local car rental operation. We’ve developed a high school aviation education program intended to give local students an amazing opportunity to enter extremely rewarding, high-paying careers, currently awaiting student enrollment. We host an annual aviation career day and open house event that has introduced over 3,100 students, teachers, parents, and locals to aviation. All of these are things we’ve done to support the community.
In reality, with the exception of 2020, we have kept our annual budget very flat for the last several years, working hard to control expenses while understanding the growth that the community needs.
Towards the end of 2019, the airport was able to use federal and state grants to help acquire a 71 acre lot because it was for sale by a willing seller and because a portion of the lot supported the airport’s future needs. The newly acquired lot is one of potentially 3 lots needed to build a longer runway that is better able to support larger corporate jets and has been on the airport’s layout plan, City of Rensselaer Comprehensive Plan, and Jasper County Comprehensive Plan for over a decade. The city and county both recognized the importance of building a longer runway to support larger corporate business jets back then, well before the formation of the airport authority. That need is even direr now due to the planned Schahfer Generating Station closure. Not only is the longer runway needed to support the aviation needs of current area/regional employers such as Chief Industries, Rockland Flooring, Love’s Truck Stop, Cascades Moulded Pulp, IBEC, Riverview Dairy/Superior Dairy, Select Dairy, Fair Oaks Farms, and Midway Electric, but the runway is also needed to attract investment into our community. The executives from these companies often have to fly into Kokomo, Valparaiso, or Lafayette, and drive here, which is terribly inefficient and unproductive. While the longer east/west runway may take several years to happen, if it ever happens, we are trying to grow operations organically in order to support the community and the airport, while attracting outside investment to the community.
How would you describe your business philosophy?
Serving the needs of the community through aviation.
How has your business changed over time?
Focus has shifted from what needs to be done to maintain this field to what can we do to better support the community and drive the community’s economic growth.