In 2017, the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation (GSDC) was instrumental in helping attain $250,000 from the Minnesota Legislature, appropriated through the MnDOT Aviation Fund, to complete a strategic planning study for the St. Cloud Regional Airport (STC). The goal of the comprehensive and broad-based study is to optimize the growth and development of the Airport and increase its economic impact on the region, which at last review was approximately $22 million according to a 2011 study.
In the fall of 2017, the GSDC launched a national RFP process to find the best experts to conduct the study, which is a public-private collaboration, including the City of St. Cloud and the Counties of Benton, Sherburne, and Stearns, with guidance and assistance provided by the Minnesota Department of Transportation Aeronautics (MnDOT) and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (MnDEED). The stated goal of the study according to the RFP is: “to determine how best to move the region forward in maximizing return on investment by growing the utilization, impact, and stewardship of the St. Cloud Regional Airport with the completion of a comprehensive, market-based study and strategic plan.”
In December 2017, after a competitive process, the GSCD and our partners chose Steven Baldwin Associates, LLC (SBA) as the consulting firm to undertake the requested tasks of the study. SBA is a nationally recognized aviation management consulting firm, headquartered in New York, which specializes in the management, organizational, and governmental review of airports, with expertise in strategic planning and economic development. SBA’s winning proposal included gathering a diverse team of experts to assist with the various planning study tasks, including: Mead & Hunt, Inc.; Ailevon Pacific Aviation Consulting; the St. Cloud State University, School of Public Affairs; the University of Minnesota Extension; and Public Solutions, Inc.
The study runs from January – August 2018, and has several complex components including:
· Forming a regional advisory committee of public/private stakeholders which meets monthly to help assess and define the work tasks and goals of the project;
· Gathering, collecting, and analyzing inventories of historical, economic, and airport-related data and information, including conducting stakeholder interviews;
· Conducting a benchmarking study with airports comparable to STC and an organizational assessment of the STC Airport’s operations, policies, and structure;
· Conducting an analysis of Air Service Development (ASD) activities, including defining the STC regional service area, updating the STC passenger demand analysis, and researching ASD opportunities and constraints;
· Conducting an analysis of STC facility and land use opportunities and constraints;
· Conducting an economic impact study;
· Conducting a parking policy and operations study;
· Reviewing opportunities and constraints for innovations and technology enhancements; and
· Conducting a review of governance model options for the Airport’s ownership and operation, among other tasks.
Study activities are scheduled to conclude in August with a final report of results and recommendations to be delivered to stakeholders and the Minnesota Legislature in September 2018.
Activities to Date
In addition to the tasks requested in the RFP, the consultants also proposed forming an advisory committee, known as the Regional Airport Study Advisory Committee (RASAC), composed of 15 regional business leaders and public entity stakeholders (including economic development and local/regional governmental officials). The RASAC meets each month to provide insight, feedback, and assessment on study tasks, results, and goals.
· In January, at the initial RASAC meeting, the consultants introduced the project team, reviewed the duties and responsibilities of committee members, and reviewed the proposed scope of tasks for the project.
· In February, the RASAC identified important tasks and activities that could supplement, compliment, or update the work tasks in the scope as well as prioritized topics and tasks. The committee also received a presentation from Mead & Hunt regarding the criteria, parameters, and purpose of the benchmarking study and reviewed possible candidate airports to include in the study.
· In March, RASAC members received an overview from the St. Cloud State University and University of Minnesota researchers on the economic impact study and the parking policy and operations study; the committee offered suggestions on the geographic region surveyed and study content.
· In April, RASAC members received a summary overview from Mead & Hunt of the results of the benchmarking study which surveyed a wide variety of operational, financial, and policy data of six airports similar to STC in operations or aspirational to STC in operations and enplanements.
· In May, RASAC members will receive a presentation from Ailevon Pacific Aviation Consulting regarding Air Service Development (ASD) activities, including defining the STC regional service area; updating the STC passenger demand analysis; and researching and analyzing ASD opportunities & constraints.
· In June, RASAC members will receive a presentation by Steven Baldwin Associates on the airport’s facility & land use opportunities and constraints.
· In July, RASAC members will receive a presentation by Steven Baldwin Associates on opportunities and constraints of the use of technology and other innovations at the airport.
· In August, RASAC members will receive a presentation by Steven Baldwin Associates on governance model options for airports in general and options for STC specifically.
All tasks for the study are currently in process and in various stages of completion, with major components such as the benchmarking study and the Air Service Development analysis having been completed already.
We would like to thank our dedicated RASAC members for their participation and feedback, which has proven useful and valuable.
We look forward to continuing to work with all involved to a successful conclusion to this important project, which has already resulted in important and beneficial data which will help team members to craft recommendations moving forward.
Overall, with the completion of the study and the involvement of a large, diverse group of private-public stakeholders and advisers, we hope to raise general community awareness that the STC Airport—whether one individually uses it or not—plays a very important role in our community and the economic development of our region. From corporate jets to general aviation users to our commercial service via Allegiant to two leisure destinations (Mesa/Phoenix, AZ and Punta Gorda/Ft. Myers, FL), all this activity enhances the appeal of our region to businesses, leisure travelers, and community members throughout an 11-county region. In fact, nearly 75% of the airport’s economic impact is through indirect means—through attendance at events, and the use of area hotels, restaurants, rental cars, and shuttles, as well as the jobs that provide those services. Even community members who don’t directly use the services of the STC Airport, still benefit from the activities the Airport supports. This is an important message and one that the study, once concluded, will help us disseminate.