The runway realignment project at the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport is coming with a price tag in excess of $100 million, but if growth of the air traffic hub continues on its current trajectory the investment will pay the region back in spades in coming decades, according to a study completed by Steven Peterson, an economist and clinical assistant professor at the University of Idaho.

Peterson presented the study, "The Economic Impacts of the Pullman Moscow Airport and Realignment Project," Tuesday in the university's Whitewater Room as part of the Malcolm Renfrew Interdisciplinary Colloquium.

"If you're going to spend $119 million on a construction project in a rural area like the Palouse, you're gong to generate a lot of economic activity that in turn generates lots of jobs, income and taxes along with it. It's a substantial contribution over the next five years to the regional economy," he said.

Peterson said his study began with a base model of the quad counties' regional economy and was enriched with various models tracking technology flow, jobs, taxes and trade.

He said he estimated the construction project over five years would create 93 direct jobs, which are positions directly related to the project, such as construction workers or security guards for a construction site.

Factoring in multiplier effects - an increase in income as a result of spending - Peterson said the total jobs added during the project are projected to peak at 226, while the gross regional product will increase by $20.1 million and local and state taxes will increase by $3 million annually for the duration of the project.

"The airport, by my measure, annually creates 212 direct jobs in this four-county region, most of them in Pullman and Moscow. Factor in the multiplier effects and that adds a total of 300 jobs, $17.4 million in gross regional product and contributes $2.72 million in taxes," Peterson said.

After the project is completed the region can expect even more income from the airport.

Peterson projected by 2038 the airport would see nearly 100,000 planes annually, provide 744 jobs and pay $43.1 million annually in local, state and other taxes.

It may seem a big jump compared to current numbers, but with recent growth bypassing all forecasts, it isn't unheard of, he said. Peterson said the Pullman-Moscow airport expects to see 60,000 planes being boarded in 2016, 12,000 more than had been projected.

"We may be seeing a regional paradigm shift in which the dominant airport shifts from Lewiston, possibly, to Pullman-Moscow," Peterson said.

Where trouble could come is if the realignment project is abandoned, he said, particularly as funding the airport currently brings in will decrease significantly.

"If the realignment doesn't take place, that drops from $2.5 million each year in federal grants and contracts to $150,000," he said.

Peterson said the change would leave the airport little more than a place to land crop dusters.

"In the 1880s, 1890s, if you had rail service your community grew. If you did not have rail service, your community might just disappear," Airport Manager Tony Bean said. "In these days it's air service."

Such an occurrence would be devastating to regional economies, the men said.

"It's a necessity for economic vitality," Bean said. "One of the neatest thing about the Palouse is, it doesn't matter if it's garbanzo beans or wheat or it's technological widgets or it's research. It's all global. You produce an amazing amount of global impact out of two small communities in the middle of an agrarian area. The airport makes a lot of that very, very possible."


Shanon Quinn can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to squinn@dnews.com.

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