Economic-development possibilities taking off in Henry

Photo by Curt Yeomans
Two planes sit outside a hangar at the Clayton County-owned Tara Field airport, in Hampton, on Wednesday. A deal has been agreed to this week, which will result in the airport being sold to the Henry County government.

Photo by Curt Yeomans Two planes sit outside a hangar at the Clayton County-owned Tara Field airport, in Hampton, on Wednesday. A deal has been agreed to this week, which will result in the airport being sold to the Henry County government.

By Jason A. Smith


The potential for economic development, stemming from Henry County's purchase of Tara Field, is on the minds of several county leaders in the wake of a recent decision by the Board of Commissioners.

One area which has generated interest, in particular, is the possibility of drawing aviation and aerospace-related industries to the area, according to county spokesperson Julie Hoover-Ernst.

"This potential is precisely why Henry County made the acquisition of Tara Field one of its chief strategies in its Economic Development Plan completed in 2009," she said. "We are working to accomplish as many of those strategies as possible, and we've done a good job."

Other elements of the Economic Development plan are to enhance telecommunications infrastructure in the county, to explore commuter-rail options, to construct a Bethlehem Road interchange, and to establish a park-and-ride lot in Locust Grove.

The commissioners voted unanimously, on Wednesday, to purchase the Tara Field airport and surrounding property for $17.7 million. Of the total, $15 million is set to be paid by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), leaving $2.7 to be paid by Henry over the next three fiscal years.

Kay Pippin, president of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce, applauded the commissioners' "visionary" decision to buy the airport. She said Tara Field "can play a positive role in the economic development of Henry County."

"We appreciate the wise negotiations that allowed the purchase of over 500 acres of land, a terminal and more, for $2.7 million," Pippin said. "With proper planning and execution, Tara Field has the potential to provide commercial airline service for the region.

"We have the ability to recruit large aviation industries that can provide aircraft-maintenance services for civilian and military customers," Pippin continued. "And, our airport is perfectly positioned to provide business aviation, including the efficient delivery of travel and distribution services. Good planning and time will be required, but the end result can be new jobs with good salaries, new services and taxes for our entire community and Atlanta's Southern Crescent."

Bob White, executive director of the Henry County Development Authority, said acquiring Tara Field and its surrounding area, gives Henry County a tool for recruiting aviation-related projects.

"There are numerous benefits for communities that have up-to-date aviation facilities," said White. "Modern aircraft, including corporate jets, are very expensive to own, operate and maintain. Increased ad valorem taxes for aircraft housed within the county, together with fuel sales and other aviation investments, add to the local tax base, while airframe, mechanical system and avionics repair businesses provide highly-sought technical jobs that will stimulate the local economy further. The acquisition of Tara Field will help to level the playing field with other communities that have already invested in enhanced aviation infrastructure."

Kay Pippin added that airports and aviation typically support the concept of business development, within a given area. She said the purchase of Tara Field continues a successful year for Henry County.

"Despite tough economic times, Henry County has had three major successes thus far in 2011 -- the near-arrival of Piedmont [HealthCare's affiliation with Henry Medical Center], the soon-to-be constructed Southern Crescent Technical College, and now, the purchase of Tara Field," she said. "Each of these major infrastructure investments can only mean good things for our community's future economic well-being."

Henry County Manager James C. "Butch" Sanders said the acquisition of Tara Field will put Henry County in a "different category of economic development."

"It makes us more attractive not only to aviation businesses, but to all business," said Sanders. "Aviation is a critical component the success of all large businesses. The fact that we now control Tara's destiny ... gives us a terrific strategic advantage."

Steve Cash, executive director of the Henry Council for Quality Growth, said he and other members of his group "feel that the purchase of Tara Field is a great tool to add to our toolbox to further enhance the quality of life in Henry County, and commend those who so fervently worked to make sure this is within our grasp."