Airport creates opportunities for Clayton, Henry

The world's busiest airport's continuous growth and expansion has created economic development opportunities to counties in south-metro Atlanta –– and beyond.

Clayton and Henry counties are especially well-positioned, officials say, to experience the direct, positive impacts Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport produces attracting new businesses and spurring opportunities for development.

Al Snedeker, a spokesman for Hartsfield-Jackson, said the reason for that is Atlanta's airport's roll in providing global access for people, goods and services, which results in more than 58,000 on-airport jobs. In addition, it brings in $32.6 billion of direct business revenue to metro Atlanta, he said.

"As the airport grows, Delta Air Lines grows, the AirTran Airways/Southwest Airlines merger grows, there are new jobs and new investments," added Grant Wainscott, director of the Clayton County Department of Economic Development. "The recent catalyst of this is the international terminal [Maynard H. Jackson, Jr., International Terminal]."

About 90 percent of the airport's property is located in Clayton County. Wainscott said most businesses located in north Clayton County are airport-related, logistic and industrial distribution companies.

"With the international terminal opening, Hartsfield-Jackson opens up to the I-75 side," said Wainscott. "What it does for the county is open up the I-75 corridor to the county and allow Mountain View to explode," he said.

The opening of the international terminal will allow for the building of hotels, retailers and restaurants, which will fulfill the demands of international visitors, said Wainscott.

"The access [I-75] is going to increase the demand," he said. "Really brand it [Mountain View] as an international gateway," added Wainscott.

The Mountain View area, an unincorporated part of Clayton County, currently houses offices, as well as industrial, cargo, freight-forwarding and logistics and distribution companies, he said.

"Mountain View has hundreds of dollars invested in it already," said Wainscott.

He said, in the last 18 months, there have been more than $15 million to $20 million in additional property values in Mountain View. Another $25 million is expected this year, as well as the potential for a quarter of a billion dollars in additional development value in the next five years, he added.

New additions to Mountain View include the official headquarters of the National Museum of Commercial Aviation, which will break ground in the next 18 to 24 months, and will be adjacent to the 100,000-square-foot Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) administrative building, which opened last year, he said.

Wainscott said to access the museum and international terminal, motorists will have to take exit 239 on Interstate 75. "You will have to circle the museum to get to the airport's international terminal," he explained.

Bob White, executive director of the Henry County Development Authority, said that, in general, Atlanta's airport is very important to Henry County's economy and to the regional economy. He said there are a number of Henry County residents who work at Hartsfield-Jackson.

"It is very important to the local economy in that aspect," he said. White said that, though it is the world's busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic, there are also numerous freight companies that use the airport.

The county's location from the airport makes it attractive for freight companies, he said. Henry County is about 34 minutes from the airport. "We hope to attract international companies to the county," he added.

Louis Miller, aviation general manager at Hartsfield-Jackson, said that once the 1.2-million-square-foot international terminal is completed in April 2012, it will create challenges for the airport that will be addressed.

The challenges, he said, include that all originating and destination international passengers will use the new facility, and the terminal will have to be accessed from Interstate 75. Currently, motorists can only access the airport from Interstate 85, he added.

"You will enter it from I-75, so we will have to educate the community about how to get there," said Miller. "We are working with GDOT [Georgia Department of Transportation] to get the signage out there."

Snedeker added that other ways the airport will educate the public about the possible changes the international terminal will produce, include creating a public-awareness campaign this summer for airport customers and direct passengers.

Miller said the airport's cargo goals this year include increasing the frequencies of current cargo carriers, supporting Southwest Airlines' efforts to build its cargo operations at the airport, and the addition of two new cargo carriers.

"There are several air cargo airlines that we will continue to reach out to this year," added Snedeker. "They include carriers in South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East."

"Among other steps to be taken, we will actively engage a number of carriers, and attend the leading air cargo trade events," added Snedeker.

In respect to the Southwest acquisition of AirTran, Snedeker said, the merger will provide airport customers with more travel options to more destinations.

All that, officials suggest, is good news for Clayton and Henry counties.