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Hartsfield has huge economic impact

By Justin Reedy

If Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport wasn't one of the largest and busiest airports in the world, Harold Hagans would be out of business.

Hagans, the owner of Atlanta Custom Brokers in Riverdale, relies on Hartsfield as the driving force behind his international air cargo business.

"The airport is the difference between life and death," Hagans said. "In my talks around the country, I tell people it's the biggest economic generator on the east coast between here and Wall Street."

If it weren't for the airport being such an important international gateway, he explained, there would only be a fraction of the 120 or so worldwide air cargo businesses found in and around Hartsfield now. Those businesses help generate jobs for area residents, tax revenue for local governments and activity in the area economy.

Though most southside businesspeople know that Hartsfield makes up a good chunk of the area's economy, a new report released by the airport details just what it contributes to the Atlanta region.

The "2002 Economic Impact" report on Hartsfield, which was commissioned by the airport and completed by the auditing firm Martin Associates, shows that about $18.8 billion in revenue is generated in and around the airport every year. More than 55,000 jobs are directly generated by the airport, the report says, while a total of more than 647,000 airport and related jobs can be attributed to passenger and cargo activity at Hartsfield.

The report points out what local business leaders have said all along n that Hartsfield is the most important part of the region's economy for jobs and business revenue, said Shane Moody, president of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce.

"I think that goes to show what the chamber board and I have always said, which is that the airport isn't just the economic engine for Georgia but for the entire Southeast," Moody said. "We need to keep building on the positives of the airport if we're going to build Clayton County. When you've got 2,000 flights per day in and out, you're going to create some jobs."

In addition to people employed by the air cargo industry and those working for the airport or airlines, Hartsfield ensures jobs for many local residents in the service industry, including hotels, restaurants and other traveler destinations. That's obvious to the management at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel Atlanta Airport on Sullivan Road.

"The revenue that we make, a large portion of it is due to our proximity to the airport," said Blake Crawford, director of sales and marketing for the hotel. "Obviously, the revenue we make affects our staffing levels. The more money we make, the more staff we have, and we make more money by being close to the airport."

And though the airline and hotel industries have been somewhat in decline since 9/11, Hartsfield has still experienced growth over the last two years. In 2002, the airport had nearly 77 million passengers and 730,000 metric tons of air cargo pass through, and was the only one of the 10 busiest airports in the U.S. to have an increase in passenger traffic last year.

The area in and around the airport is also experiencing growth that should only help boost the local economy, area business owners say. The latest example of that was this week's grand opening of the Georgia International Convention Center, a $100 million, 400,000-square-foot facility in College Park.

With major hotels and convention centers such as the GICC locating in and around the airport, the south side's economy should continue to improve, according to Mitch Thompson, the owner of Showcase Eatery in College Park.

"Whenever buildings like that area built in a neighborhood, it's going to help the neighborhood," Thompson said. "Because it'll create jobs, and if people have jobs, they'll spend more money. That will really help things on the south side."

But Hartsfield's economic impact doesn't stop there, businesspeople say n it extends miles outside of the metro Atlanta area, and even into surrounding states.

"You can get on down south to the Waffle Houses along the interstate and see that truckers hauling cargo from businesses at Hartsfield stop there and boost their sales," Hagans said.

"The impact is all over n it goes into Alabama, up into Tennessee, and down into Florida."