Mel Baxter knows that the future of Glynn County’s economy is directly tied to the aviation industry.
It’s one reason the interim director of the Brunswick and Glynn County Development Authority is excited to see large scale investments being made at the Brunswick Golden Isles Airport.
At its meeting March 23, the authority continued its mission to fund updates at the airport. In October, the board approved a proposal to spend $500,000, previously earmarked for construction of an industrial spec building, on infrastructure improvements at the airport. The improvements will allow airport tenant Stambaugh Aviation to expand, a move that’s estimated to create at least 100 more jobs, the authority was told. It will also better position the airport to welcome other companies.
Glynn County has agreed to partner with the authority to foot the bill for the improvements, which will be accomplished through bonds. Baxter says the cost will likely total around $8.5 million.
“There are still some technical things we have to go through with these bonds. The county has not approved what we approved (March 23). They are scheduled to vote on that at their April meeting,” Baxter said.
The bonds must also go through a lengthy validation process which includes the court system. It is expected to be completed by the beginning of May.
From there, the actual construction process can begin. This will include adding 130,000 square feet of ramp space on the north side, near the Stambaugh Aviation facility.
“That will allow Stambaugh to do an expansion that will bring 100 new jobs. Then there’s another company that I’m not at liberty to name just yet that will be coming in and adding 50 new jobs,” Baxter said.
From there, the money will be used to fund what has been dubbed the “east side” terminal project. The “east side” refers to the area to the right of the terminal if one is standing inside.
“We haven’t done any expansion through there, and this would give us room to do several things in the future. There are a lot of future projects that could come there,” Baxter said. “That’s the key reason we’re doing all of this — to add new companies.”
He says that many companies’ interest is piqued by the airport’s 8,000-foot runway. Though Baxter notes many companies want other facilities, such as hangars, in place before committing to locate to the area.
“We want to try to have those in place,” he said.
One of the potential industries the development authority is hoping to lure in with the improvements — aerospace. Baxter has watched as the St. Marys spaceport project has gained steam, and he hopes to position Glynn County to tap in the $14.7 billion industry.
While negotiations are ongoing in Camden County, Baxter says he wants to focus on ensuring that the infrastructure is in place to reap the rewards of the spaceport, whose proposed location would be roughly four miles south of the Glynn County line.
Baxter told the board at the meeting that he had talked with Camden County Administrator Steve Howard, who has been involved with the process, and says Glynn County would share in the economic opportunity.
“There will be a lot of opportunities ... and they can either go north or they can go south,” Baxter explained to the board. “When I talked with Steve, I said ‘what can we do?’ He said ‘be ready and help support us.’”
And those opportunities are many.
“There are a lot of groups that come with it — manufacturing for instance. There will be shipments coming in, and again ... going back to the 8,000 foot runway, it’s a logical place for shipments and logistics companies that move parts,” Baxter said.
“Then there’s the tourists. If there are 12 (launches) a year, it could bring anywhere between 5,000 to 10,000 people per shot. I see Jekyll Island covered up and some of St. Simons, too. I know some people would come up just for the day but some would stay a night or two.”
While the spaceport is at least five years down the road, Baxter says the authority must act and prepare now.
He wants to take time to ensure that the area is in the best possible place when and if the port becomes a reality.
“It would be a game changer for us,” Baxter conceded.