Airport panel looks ahead to long-range plan


A subcommittee of the Pine Bluff Grider Field Airport Commission is receiving expert guidance in formulating a 10-year plan for the facility.

Commissioners Joy Ramsay Blankenship and Ken Johnson, accompanied by Airport Manager Doug Hale, hosted consultants Kathy Deck and James M. “Mitch” Rose on Tuesday morning. Deck is director of the Sam Walton College of Business’ Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Rose, a White Hall resident, is executive vice president of the McClelland Consulting Engineers Inc. firm in Little Rock.

McClelland has been contracted by the commission to oversee and help direct the planning effort. Rose said he’s previously worked with Deck on similar matters and recommended her to commissioners.

Johnson said he’s hoping Deck can assist in consolidating “ideas and approaches” suggested by commissioners, Hale and leading Grider Field proponents. By the end of the hour-long round table, Deck said she would prepare a preliminary paper on how the airport can possibly enhance its economic development potential, better market itself to the aviation and general communities and build on a stout, diversified area infrastructure. Deck also stressed the importance of determining the local public’s opinions on the airport and obtaining its imput on planning.

Deck’s report is slated to be introduced in a commission meeting next week.

Deck, who said a primary focus of the plan should be a determination of who the airport serves and how that service can be strengthened, warned that such a blueprint does not necessarily translate into success as not all circumstances can be forecast.

Blankenship and Johnson spoke of possible avenues of community outreach and increasing foot traffic at the airport. Johnson believes activities such as a job fair or an airport appreciation day could be beneficial. Blankenship mentioned recruiting Greater Pine Bluff Chamber of Commerce members to the airport for events so community business leaders can become more familiar with the facility.

Deck suggested increasing the airport’s stakeholder base by honing a general sense of ownership within the public. She said one way to achieve such is to engage children through partnerships with local schools.

Hale said his goal is to see Grider Field function as “100-percent self-sustaining.”

Johnson touched on how the airport — which began as a World War II pilot training school — might garner support as a heritage tourism site. Some of the original barracks from the flight school remain intact. A number of cadets, who arrived from across the country, wound up marrying area women and many eventually settled in the region after their military service.

Heritage tourism efforts in the state have blossomed in recent years and led to jobs creation.

Hale discussed the airport property’s favor for industrial development. Of Grider Field’s 850 acres, 500 are now dedicated to agricultural production but have been commercially zoned. Hale pointed out to Deck the airport’s proximity to key roadways, rail facilities and Arkansas River barge traffic.

Hale said he believes a general aircraft services firm could do well at the airport. Johnson suggested a freight service might thrive.