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 the final installment in a five-part series reflecting on the past half-decade as well as future expectations for one of the county’s most valuable real estate and economic development assets.
WILMINGTON — Things continue to look up at the Wilmington Air Park.
The executive leadership team and board of directors for the Clinton County Port Authority (CCPA), which owns the local air park, say they are continuing to favor diversity in the types of businesses and industry they partner with and are discriminating in favor of tenants and partners who offer long-term economic stability and job growth.
But like in the past, today, and in the more predictable near term, it seems evident that much of the economic activity at the park will continue to be dependent upon either large or small flying machines like those first conceived by the Wright brothers down the road in Dayton, Ohio more than a century ago.
That was the case in 1929 when a group of local aeroplane enthusiasts initiated flying activities on a field along SR 73; later when it became the Clinton County Air Field; from 1960 until 1972 when it was the Clinton County Air Force Base; and from the seventies — when it was re-branded as an industrial/air park—until today when it is considered an integrated aviation and logistics business park.
Those large flying machines continue to travel in and out of the Wilmington Air Park for commerce or maintenance related to the aviation companies under the umbrella of Air Transport Services Group (ATSG), the CCPA’s largest tenant and airport operator.
Just last month Airborne Maintenance and Engineering Services (AMES), one of those aviation companies, announced that it had signed a multi-year heavy maintenance contract with Delta Air Lines that will create 150 direct jobs and 50 support jobs.
Joe Hete, president and chief executive officer of ATSG, says ATSG and its subsidiaries have created more than 500 jobs in the past five years, about half of which were created by AMES.
“Job growth for ATSG will be largely in the airplane maintenance area as we continue to grow that business with new and established relationships with many of the major carriers,” Hete said in a recent interview.
DHL, still the largest logistics company in the world, is responsible for “the biggest book of business for AMES,” according to Hete.
Earlier this year, LGSTX Services, another one of those aviation companies, began a trial air cargo operation with an undisclosed company that added 55 jobs and reportedly has been successful enough that expansion is a distinct possibility.
Drones on the radar
Whether you call those smaller flying machines referenced earlier drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or unmanned aerial systems (UAS), they are already on the local port authority’s economic radar and are probably here to stay.
The CCPA has relationships for UAS research and development with the Air Force Research Lab, Sinclair Community College, the University of Cincinnati and the State of Ohio.
Those entities are already doing on-site testing and some will soon be flying UAS in restricted air space over southwestern Ohio. These partners are also eyeing some of the high-ceiling warehouse space for indoor, year-round testing.
Over the next decade, unmanned aerial systems are projected by some experts to become a $2 billion industry in Ohio with the potential to create 2,500 jobs.
“We think there are a number of distinct possibilities in this arena for the future because it is an emerging technology,” said CCPA executive director Kevin Carver. “It is pretty commonly accepted that UAVs will dramatically impact our lives over the next 15 years.”
Carver says the hope would be that currently established contacts in the field and the exposure that gives the air park could lead to job growth in the industry and possibly result in UAS manufacturing facilities here in the future. “We are thinking small now, but this field will continue to grow because of the number of ways they can be utilized,” Carver said.
“Small towns for a variety of reasons tend to lack the resources to be the leader in a new sector,” said Taylor Stuckert, executive director of the Clinton County Regional Planning Commission. “The tendency after the departure of DHL would be to watch and wait for existing employer to show up with something we are familiar with. I think we are becoming more open to forward-thinking and new ideas.”
The makerspace route
In addition to catching the drone wave, the Clinton County Port Authority believes in the future of another new idea generated by Energize Clinton County, the grassroots activist economic and community development organization born out of the DHL departure and founded by Stuckert and Mark Rembert, who is now executive director of the Wilmington-Clinton County Chamber of Commerce.
That idea is a makerspace formally known as Pioneer Labs. A makerspace is a community-operated workspace where people with common interests, often in computers, machining, technology, science, digital art or electronic art, can meet, socialize, collaborate and create.
“A makerspace is like a gym membership, only for those interested in manufacturing and new technology,” Rembert said. “Members will pay a monthly fee to utilize the office, manufacturing or warehouse space.”
“Pioneer Labs will assist in the training of a new generation of manufacturing workers,” Carver said. “Our local manufacturing workforce has a significant portion of its employees that will be retiring over the next five to 10 years, and having a venue to encourage those workers with advanced skill sets to train new workers is valuable.”
The space at the Wilmington Air Park could be unique enough to draw interest and members from all over Ohio, Carver said.
And though many things are up in the air — both literally and figuratively — the CCPA remains open-minded about future Wilmington Air Park tenants and other county partnerships.
“We are not putting all of our eggs in one basket because we continue to pursue tenants and draw interest from companies that are not in the aviation field,” Carver said. “Santa Rosa Systems is here building machinery and equipment with growth expectations and we have plenty of available similar space to accommodate others in manufacturing and warehousing that are not dependent on an airport.”
Stuckert and Rembert, as two of the great homegrown leaders that emerged from the DHL crisis, think the Clinton County Port Authority has gone about it the right way since acquiring the Wilmington Air Park.
Lighting has struck twice — first, the closing of the air force base in 1972, and then with the exodus of DHL.
“You wouldn’t expect for something like that to happen a third time,” Stuckert said. “But I think the port authority is developing the right kind of strategy to make that kind of economic crisis less likely in the future.”
This is the final segment of this series, but if you have questions or suggestions about future articles about the Clinton County Port Authority 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 and to sign up for an e-newsletter, go to http://www.wilmingtonairpark.com. For periodic updates, you can also 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.