We all Love Little Rock, but it was a comment at the #LoveLittleRock event last week, that piqued some people's interest about the possibility of an international airport coming to the city.
Last week, I spoke with Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola after the Love Little Rock press conference.
It was there, I asked him, why Little Rock didn't qualify for the Amazon headquarters.
One reason, he said: we don't have an international airport.
I took that response to the Clinton National Airport and asked them, "what will it take?"
"They want an international air port. We don't have an international airport, but we do have plans for one in the future," the Mayor explained of Amazon's demands Thursday. It was that soundbite that peaked a lot of interest.
Plans for the future sounds pretty eminent, only, we haven't heard anything about Little Rock going international.
I asked LIT, how soon are we talking?
"I think it will happen. It's one of the things we've prepared ourselves for," explained Ronald Mathieu, the Executive Director of the Clinton National Airport.
He says, they've got their ducks in a row to take business abroad, they're just missing one very large duck.
"We’re debt-free. We have concepts already; about two or three different concepts. What we are looking for is the demand to be here," he said, adding that demand is what drives airlines to want to grow and expand. The ball, he says, is in their court.
If you build it, they will come; it's a saying that may be true in a lot of situations, but when it comes to international airports, that couldn't be further from the truth.
"There's a name for Executive Directors that push to build a facility and then it is never used, you know what that name is? Unemployed," Mathieu said, explains that airport commissioners that build facilities that are never used, become "former commissioners", because who wants to see a $50 million project go to waste?
There are actually a number of airports that advertise to be international, but only offer only seasonal, or very limited international flights.
“It’s a marketing thing for them. We’ve always looked at that here as being deceptive, to say that we are international. We’re actually in a better position to do that than any of these other airports because we actually do have international flights coming in and out. It’s pre-arranged. We have two inspectors here, and as long as it’s below 30 people, or so on the airplane, you can make prearrangements," Mathieu told us.
It's like a revolving door: Amazon wants an international airport in the city HQ2 calls home, but Mathieu says, if Little Rock wants an international airport, its businesses that will likely drive up the demand.
Over the next 20 years, experts expect Little Rock grow a little over 1% a year. That isn't enough to demand an international airport, Matthieu told me. "We have to have a change."
So Mathieu and others are banking on efforts like Love Little Rock to provide the change that is needed.
"If you start getting different companies here, and there's a number of them that build, you could see the need for some of that travel," the Executive Director told me finally.
If you want to help build demand, fly in and out of Little Rock. Flying in and out of Memphis or Dallas impacts LIT’s ability to grow.
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