over airport marketing
The Charlotte County Airport Authority is spending way too little on marketing, considering it’s sitting on some $60 million in buildings, runways, land and other capital assets, according to Sean Wilson, a manager for a large Lee County homebuilder who is running for an airport authority seat.
Wilson said his company spends up to 25 percent marketing a subdivision of 1,000 homes. That’s a far bigger percentage than the authority spends.
“I just think there needs to be a much larger focus on marketing,” he said. “There’s 3,500 other airports around the country and they’re all trying to get airlines in their towns.”
Wilson faces incumbent Pamella Seay and fellow challenger David Dreyer in the District 1 race.
Seay, a law professor who has held the seat since 1996, said the authority typically spends between $15,000 and $30,000 on marketing per year. The expenditures are limited by Federal Aviation Administration rules that apply to airports donated to counties by the federal government, she said.
“We are not permitted to promote the airlines,” she said.
Wilson, however, pointed out the authority’s 1,900-acre complex has just 70 tenants. The airport is currently operating on a $10.4 million budget. It could do better, he suggested.
“You’ve got more cattle out there than people,” he said.
Before Direct Air went bankrupt last spring, the airport saw some 300,000 passengers per year. That has since dropped to about 177,000 — “a big drop,” said Wilson.
He praised authority executive director Gary Quill as a “very good guy.” But Quill needs marketing support, according to Wilson. The budget should include a full-time marketing staffer or consultant, he said.
Authority commissioners also should make themselves available to provide “face time” with prospective business tenants or airlines, he said.
According to Wilson, the authority should target business in Florida and the U.S. before reaching out to Brazil, as Seay did in a trade mission a year ago.
Wilson pointed out the Washington state-based manufacturer Boeing is many times bigger than Brazil’s largest aircraft company. He also noted that, at least on its Dreamliner model, Boeing farms out most the component manufacturing to smaller companies in the U.S.
The authority should join forces with Charlotte County and the Metropolitan Planning Organization to lobby for grants to attract such businesses, he said.
“You’ve got a special district that runs this airport,” Wilson said. “If you can’t properly market this, there’s no need to have a special district. Just let Charlotte County take it over.”
“I just want to throw my hands up in desperation when I hear someone make such statements,” said Seay. “And yet, (Wilson) has never come out to the airport, never sat down and talked with Gary Quill, never looked at our master plan.”
She pointed out the authority is teaming with the Charlotte County Visitors and Convention Bureau to spend $180,000 in grant funds next year to market the county as a destination.
The authority could also hire a marketing specialist for some $30,000 to $150,000 per year.
Instead, Seay pointed out, the authority works closely with Lorah Steiner, director of the tourism bureau, and Tom Patton, county economic development director.
“Our goal is to find businesses that are compatible with the airport,” she said.
The authority could lease billboards, as some have suggested. That would cost some $600 per month, not including graphics expenses, Seay noted.
“But, where’s our money better spent?” she asked. “Right now, we spend it making sure our buildings and runways are well maintained.”