Madras Airport

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CBN_13_Feb20_FrontPgAirplane

Next Hub of Economic Development in Central Oregon

While Prineville may have already staked its claim on being the data center capital of Central Oregon, Madras economic development officials would like to become the next aviation hub.

The city-owned airport took a giant step towards this goal last month when it signed an agreement with Erickson Aero Tanker, a subsidiary of Hillsboro, Oregon-based Aero Air, LLC, and landed the first of what could be several more retrofitted commercial McDonnell Douglas MD-87 jets at the city-owned airport by the end of March.

The company anticipates signing federal firefighting contracts this month which could create anywhere from 22 to 50 jobs at the airport down the road, according to Erickson Aero Tanker. Economic development is critical in Jefferson County where the unemployment rate is 11.9 percent, according to the latest seasonally adjusted data from the Oregon Employment Department.

“Getting a firm like that for what will be their national headquarters for firefighting is a big deal,” said Rick Allen, a former Madras mayor who spearheaded efforts to improve the airport while mayor that have continued over the last decade. “When they are not fighting fires, they will bring their planes back to Madras for a mechanic’s base. Those will be good-paying jobs.”

Madras Emerges as Hub of Economic Activity

New City Hall, Winery, Airport Expansion, Hospital Improvements and Drones Set the Stage for Growth in Jefferson County

While Prineville may have already staked its claim on being the data center capital of Central Oregon, Madras economic development officials would like to become the next aviation hub.

The city-owned airport took a giant step towards this goal when it signed an agreement with Erickson Aero Tanker, a subsidiary of Hillsboro, Oregon-based Aero Air, LLC, and landed the first of what could be several more retrofitted commercial McDonnell Douglas MD-87 jets at the city-owned airport by the end of March.

The company anticipates signing federal firefighting contracts this month which could create anywhere from 22 to 50 jobs at the airport down the road, according to Erickson Aero Tanker. Economic development is critical in Jefferson County where the unemployment rate is 11.9 percent, according to the latest seasonally adjusted data from the Oregon Employment Department.

“Getting a firm like that for what will be their national headquarters for firefighting is a big deal,” said Rick Allen, a former Madras mayor who spearheaded efforts to improve the airport while mayor that have continued over the last decade. “When they are not fighting fires, they will bring their planes back to Madras for a mechanic’s base. Those will be good-paying jobs.”

Allen and other officials also pointed to potential aviation-related spinoff jobs that could result, including helicopter companies, and other parts providers.

The possibility of developing an industry related to commercial applications of unmanned aerial vehicles, popularly known as drones, also is getting more likely, said Janet Brown, manager for Jefferson County Economic Development for Central Oregon, which promotes business growth in the region.

“There is a lot of activity going on around the airport and many inquiries,” Brown said. “It helps that we’re the closest community in Central Oregon to the Portland metro area.”

The city has tried to attract businesses by making improvements at and around the airport, including building new roads and water lines to the airport, a new terminal and 39,000 square-foot hangar, runway lighting and a landing system, and attracting companies such as Butler Aircraft, which recently transferred its assets to Erickson Aero Tanker, said Rob Berg, owner of Berg Air LLC, which manages the airport.

“All of this has gone towards bringing companies like (Erickson Aero Tanker) in,” said Berg, who became fixed base operator at the airport in 2006. “We had to upgrade old and failing infrastructure to bring companies into Central Oregon.”

Airport funding from 2002 through 2015 will total $16.6 million, according to the City of Madras. The funding has come from a mix of federal, state and city governments.

Additional improvements are being made to connect businesses at the Madras Industrial Park to spurs off the BNSF railroad and improve local access roads, according to the city.

Berg Air anticipates increased fuel sales as a result of the seven new jets parked at the airport, Berg said.

“If they move all these planes here, we’ll have to grow,” he said.

Future improvements at the airport include lengthening and strengthening the runway to accommodate the jets.

“The city is behind this airport 100 percent and realizes its importance,” he said.

Companies looking to relocate to the city-owned airport could lease up to about 150 acres of land at the airport from the city, which typically suits aviation companies well, EDCO’S Brown said.

An additional 33 acres are available for sale and about 39 acres are for lease from the City at the Madras Industrial Park, adjacent to the airport, Brown said.

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