The Wilmington Air Park is in the midst of its fifth year since it was donated by DHL to the Clinton County Port Authority. This is Part 3 of a special series reflecting on the past half-decade as well as future expectations for the county’s most valuable piece of real estate.
WILMINGTON — If the deal for the Clinton County Port Authority (CCPA) to be donated to the Wilmington Air Park in 2010 was a glass of water, the most vocal community leaders at the time would have said that the glass was at least partially full, not nearly empty.
Instead of dwelling on the departure of DHL and its 8,000+ jobs, they and many other community leaders chose to focus on the positive — seeing hope in the companies and more than 700 employees that remained.
“During my tenure, my main concern was to get the airport sustainable,” says David Hockaday, who followed Bill Marine as CCPA chairman in 2013 and left the board in that role effective Oct. 1. A former long-time city councilman, Hockaday was on the task force that worked to get the air park and keep it going and joined the CCPA board right as the donation deal closed.
The CCPA was created in 2004, ironically, when DHL announced plans to move its domestic operations to Wilmington from the Greater Cincinnati Airport.
“When it became known that DHL was coming to town, they went to the Dayton Port Authority for the issuance of $280 million in bonds to help with the startup at the air park,” recalled John Limbert, who was CCPA chairman from 2010 to 2012. “The Clinton County Port Authority was created so that it could issue the bonds.”
A legal battle ensued between the two port authorities, with the courts finally deciding that the Dayton group should issue the bonds. However, as a result of that litigation, port authority bodies can no longer vie for business in another port authority’s territory without permission.
The CCPA, one of the few in Ohio that owns property, continued to exist and was approached on several occasions between 2005 and 2010 to fund projects but nothing significant came out of those discussions.
After the air park donation, the CCPA had to create a true business operation — starting with setting up the office, hiring staff and creating business policies. It also had to create partnerships for the future with all air park employers, most notably the aviation-related companies left in DHL’s wake — which accounted for virtually all air park employees.
The CCPA entered into an agreement with LGSTX to operate the airport on its behalf at an original figure of about $1.4 million.
“With inflation, extraordinary repair expenses, fix up/clean up items and some capital rolling stock replacements, our annual spend on airport operations is now a little over $1.8 million annually,” said Kevin Carver, executive director of the port authority. “Interesting to note is that most of that spend directly impacts the community. The majority of the total is for salaries and wages, but we also purchase equipment, consumables, parts, etc. locally.”
Hockaday also noted that early on during some of the transitional maintenance work at the air park, LGSTX and the CCPA hired back, if only temporary in some cases, many former air park employees.
The port authority’s first true full-time employee was also a past air park employee, Beth Huber, a former communication coordinator for ABX. With a long history at the air park, Huber helped with many of the transitional issues and became associate director of the air park in 2010 when Carver, a long-time veteran in state and regional economic development circles, became the executive director.
Since CCPA board members are all volunteers, most of whom held full-time jobs, the addition of Carver and Huber were necessary building blocks for the foundation that was important to the future progress at the air park, Limbert said.
Although he retired as president of National Bank and Trust (now Peoples Bank) in 2014 and now lives in northern Ohio, Limbert follows the activity at the air park very closely and is convinced local officials are on the right track in charting its future.
“Turnarounds for these kinds of sites are not going to happen terribly quickly and there is a lot of competition out there with many communities in the same boat after the recession,” Limbert said. “The air park is a long-term opportunity and building tool that can be used well into the future.”
Limbert suggested looking at Moraine in his hometown of Dayton where large buildings and parking lots have sat empty for years following the departures of GM and Frigidaire who used to employ thousands for years.
Carver said there is some recent development activity underway in Moraine but a development site similar to the Wilmington Air Park, Emery Worldwide’s former hub at the Dayton International Airport, still sits empty since closing down in 2006.
Future segments of this series will review more whats — what has been done the last five years and what the future looks like. If you have questions or suggestions for this series or about future articles about the Clinton County Port Authority and/or the Wilmington Air Park, contact Executive Director Kevin Carver at 937.655.7019 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Wilmington Air Park is an integrated aviation and logistics business park located on 1,900 acres in central Ohio. The park features nearly three million square feet of industrial, office and hangar space. For more information, including a history of the air park or to sign up for an e-newsletter, go to www.wilmingtonairpark.com. For periodic updates, connect on LinkedIn.
The Clinton County, Ohio Port Authority is a special purpose governmental entity formed by the Clinton County Commissioners in 2004. It can be used to operate transportation infrastructure and lead economic development. The Clinton County Port Authority owns the Wilmington Air Park.