Switching on my ancient iPod at the airport after a long day's business trip is a ritual for me, refreshing and recharging. Recently, in Houston, I was enjoying the excellent soundtrack to Garden State while doing some people watching.
I love airports because they are the epitome of connectivity: physical for moving cargo, documents, and people; emotional for connecting loved ones. For me, one of the most important aspects is that it creates intellectual connectivity.
For a modern metropolitan region to thrive from an economic and cultural standpoint, having its own dedicated airport with daily service connecting people to the world is essential.
And that is why it is imperative for the Mahoning Valley to stand behind all the great work that has taken place at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport recently in order to help secure the Valley's future.
America Makes, formerly known as NAMII, is a prime example of how an airport with daily service in the Valley would be a multiplier. All the shale-related investment the Valley has seen in the last four years would sincerely benefit from air service into YNG, but the reality is that air service for them is a luxury compared to the necessities of road logistics, skilled labor and proximity to shale plays.
The 21st century technology being enhanced behind the doors of America Makes, however, means that modern manufacturing doesn't have to be constrained to the same logistical needs of paramount importance when the assembly lines were miles long. So if the Valley wants to lure the types of companies that would want to be seated next door to NAMII, for research and development collaboration, then that means there must be a way to move that intellectual capital in and out of the region expeditiously.
In other words, in order to diversify the Valley's economy further into higher-skilled and higher-paying jobs, having a thriving airport will be additive to the prosperity the Valley is starting to see again.
Fifteen years ago, the idea of a thriving YNG airport seemed difficult to muster. One hour to the southeast was the Pittsburgh International Airport, with its US Airways hub sending travelers on hundreds of flights a day from its key U.S. hub. Likewise, 1.5 hours to the northwest was the Cleveland hub for Continental Airlines. Being sandwiched between two hubs gave Valley travelers the ability to fly just about anywhere in the United States without connecting.
Sadly, those days have passed. While great airports they still are, more and more travelers are having to make the long drive, and then still having to connect elsewhere to get to their destinations.
If that is the case, then the Valley, especially the time-sensitive business community, can easily justify a shorter drive, cheaper parking, less wear and tear on their vehicles, zero turnpike tolls, and shorter security lines that a YNG would offer. And when the business community buys a ticket, they are buying an investment voucher to theirs and the Valley's future. They are investing in another marketing tool in an already strong toolbox that the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber can use to attract investors from the rest of the United States, Canada, and the globe. That's good for everybody.
In April 2010, over two orders of Station Square's exquisite spinach lasagna, I met then-newly appointed YNG airport director Dan Dickten for the first time. And when I walked out of that lunch, I knew that we had somebody who didn't just know how to properly manage the affairs of a regional airport; but rather he understood and embraced the role an airport has in economic development.
And anybody who has been to the airport lately can visibly see progress. Hangars repainted, personal hangars built during the golden age of radio torn down and replaced, vitality in the terminal, and a sense of pride from the staff. The Western Reserve Port Authority should be commended for its empowerment of Dan and his team to get the job done.
With the key airline players beginning to react to the post-Cleveland hub world we live in, now is the time for the business community in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys to stand united with the initiatives by YNG to bring in daily service. Even in today's I.T. world, iPhones and old iPods don't have a monopoly on connectivity but they certainly do help in the (airport) waiting line.
Planey is a former vice president with the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber.