Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport tops $1 billion in economic impact









“A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.”
-Mark Twain

By Maria PollettaThe Republic | azcentral.comTue Sep 17, 2013 3:56 PM

Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport each day on average supports more than 10,000 area jobs and funnels $3.6 million into the local economy, according to a new economic-impact study.

The study, prepared by a research institute at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, analyzed Gateway’s activity in the 2012-13 fiscal year and found the airport generated a total of $1.3 billion in direct and secondary revenue.

The results mark the first time the airport’s measurable economic impact topped $1 billion.

“It’s exciting, because it proves that Gateway can live up to the potential that we thought was there, which is to be a major economic driver,” said Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, who also is an airport-authority director. “I didn’t know what the exact numbers would be, but it’s not surprising.”

ASU conducted its last economic-impact study on Gateway-related activity in the 2009-10 fiscal year. The three-year gap allowed for some striking comparisons, since total passenger numbers climbed from about 683,000 to more than 1.4 million over that period.

“What most caught officials’ attention were those employment numbers and then the visitor spending,” said Gateway spokesman Brian Sexton.

Compared to 2009-10, regional spending by visitors rose by more than 400 percent in 2012-13, to $394 million. That includes $391 million from commercial passengers and roughly $3 million from general-aviation visitors.

About 60 percent of travelers who used Gateway in 2012-13 were visitors, and of those, 95 percent were traveling for pleasure. With help from the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau, the study found that the average travel-party size for visitors was two people, and they stayed for an average of just under six days.

“Those are visitors coming, looking at hotels and rental cars and dining out,” said Gateway Executive Director Jane Morris.

The average departing commercial plane in 2012-13 carried 86 visitors, who spent a total of about $80,000 during their stay.

“In 2010, we were in the depths of a recession. In 2013, we found that people are spending a bit more for each trip,” said Lee McPheters, who headed the study. “They are also staying a bit longer on each trip, and…that has a really significant impact.”

In addition to the revenue it generated, visitor spending had a direct tie to more than 4,300 jobs created in the region in 2012-13.

The largest spending category among visitors was for food and drink, contributing to more than $141 million in revenue for restaurants and bars and creating 2,255 jobs. Retail goods and services came second, at $129 million and 773 jobs.

“These are amazing statistics when you start putting them into perspective of what else is going on around in the state and in the Valley,” said Queen Creek Mayor Gail Barney, airport authority vice-chair.

Total regional employment supported by Gateway increased by 150 percent from 2009-10 to 2012-13 for a mix of 10,470 full- and part-time jobs.

The increase aligns with the study’s assessment of Gateway as a “major employment locus for the East Valley.” More than 2,000 of those jobs were at the airport, where about 50 private employers are located.

Morris highlighted Able Engineering, which in April moved into a 191,000-square-foot facility at Gateway, as a key part of that category. “That’s over 400 jobs — and also high-paying jobs,” she said.

In addition to positions directly related to aviation operations, “metropolitan airports are also prime locations for…high-technology firms,” aviation-education opportunities and research outfits, the study said. It called Gateway “a leader in this national trend.”

“We know that success breeds success,” Smith said. “People like to go to places where things are moving forward.”

The airport’s next challenge involves transforming the 1,000 acres of undeveloped land it has at its fingertips. Design and construction of an east-side terminal to accommodate Gateway’s rapid growth is at the forefront of those plans.

Airport officials have said delays in expanding to the other side of the airport could eventually result in a loss of more than $20 million in annual revenue.

“The economic-impact study is exactly what we need to help roll into our marketing plan,” Morris said. “It tells a story that we’re progressing from when we first started passenger service in 2007, and…it shows the airport’s ability to grow and provide the kind of service airlines need.”

Sexton said the study “is a validation of the commitment and sacrifice of our member-government communities who have invested in the airport for nearly 20 years.”

“That commitment is paying off in a big way,” he said.

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