Unlocking Potential: Foothills Regional Airport's Path to Economic Development

Unlocking Potential: Foothills Regional Airport's Path to Economic Development Main Photo

1 Apr 2024

A Rich History and a New Beginning

A comprehensive feasibility study has recently been conducted for the Foothills Regional Airport in the quest for sustainable economic growth and regional development. Established in 1944, the US Army Corps of Engineers constructed the Morganton/Lenoir Airport as a training exercise, marking the airport's 80-year legacy. Initially jointly owned by Morganton and Lenoir, it faced challenges due to its location, hindering both cities from benefiting from property tax revenues. In 1999, a groundbreaking move was made to create the Foothills Regional Airport Authority, jointly owned by Morganton, Lenoir, Burke County, and Caldwell County.

Subsequently, on December 1, 1999, a Memorandum of Understanding paved the way for creating the Foothills Regional Airport Authority, uniting Morganton, Lenoir, Burke County, and Caldwell County as joint owners. This collaborative effort led to appointing two members from each government entity to serve on the Board of Directors, marking a pivotal step towards overcoming challenges and fostering the airport's growth.

A Strategic Location and Diverse Activities

Situated at 3566 Morganton Lenoir Airport Ave., the 1,150-acre property straddles the Burke and Caldwell County line. The airport is accessed from the west from Antioch Road, which bounds the west-central portion of the site. Old Amherst Road and Dogwood Vista transect the eastern portion of the site.

Apart from private aircraft operations, gliders, and flight training, the airport is used by corporate giants like Dick's Sporting Goods and Chick-fil-A. Fuel sales contribute significantly to its revenue stream.

Sanford Holshouser's Role in Shaping the Future

Sanford Holshouser Economic Development Consulting (SHEDC) plays a crucial role in shaping the airport's future. Retained in 2023 to review the Foothills Regional Airport Authority's 1,150 acres, SHEDC evaluated the feasibility of developing business and industrial sites. Their comprehensive approach includes cost estimates, site preparation, utility extensions, and funding program assessments. 

Building on the Past - Review of Existing Information

SHEDC's review of existing information reveals the history of discussions about an industrial park dating back to 2000-2002. The economic development agency AdvantageWest laid the groundwork, identifying potential industrial sites and developing layouts. Though over two decades old, many findings from this period remain valid, forming a foundation for future development.

Infrastructure Insights - Utilities and Access

Detailed information about utilities, access, and other factors is contained in the report provided by Modulus, PLLC. Examining utilities and access, Modulus provides valuable insights. The airport relies on a 12-inch waterline from Lenoir, while sanitary sewer options have also been explored. Natural gas availability depends on potential usage, and Duke Energy offers an electric capacity of up to 3,000kW with room for expansion. Charter Communications provides 1 gigabit internet service.

Strategic Recommendations for the Future

Based on their extensive experience, SHEDC proposes critical recommendations for the Foothills Regional Airport Authority. These include monitoring state appropriations, exploring opportunities for grant funding, relocating the glider operation, and utilizing modern technologies like CAD, drone videography, and 3D modeling to promote the business airpark.

Target Industries for Sustainable Growth

The SHEDC has identified four target industries crucial for the airport's growth: Aviation, Logistics, Renewable Energy, and Information Technology. These industries promise diversified economic growth and resilience by aligning with the region's strengths. The recommendation is to focus on technology-forward aviation and aerospace organizations, logistics, and renewable energy.

A Bright Future for Foothills Regional Airport

As Foothills Regional Airport focuses on economic development, partnering with SHEDC and the identified target industries lays the groundwork for a prosperous future. The airport's strategic location, diverse activities, and the recommendations provided create a roadmap for sustained growth, ensuring it becomes a key player in the economic landscape of Caldwell County and beyond.

Caldwell County Economic Development is a valuable resource for those eager to delve deeper into the study's findings and explore potential collaborations. CCED is dedicated to assisting individuals, businesses, and stakeholders interested in understanding the study's implications and how they can contribute to the airport's promising trajectory. With a commitment to fostering regional prosperity, CCED stands ready to facilitate further discussions, provide information, and support initiatives that propel the Foothills Regional Airport toward a flourishing and dynamic future.

For those interested in reading the complete study, it is attached here.