Study: Tourism, airport fuel local economy

A plane takes off from Montrose Regional Airport in 2017. In a recently conducted tourism study, the airport was found to be a driving factor in boosting the economy, a confirmation of what many already knew. 

When Mayor Roy Anderson and his wife were relocating from the Front Range to the Western Slope, they took into account how feasible it could be to travel to different locations.

Anderson recalled Durango was a no-go, as the airport didn’t have flights that would take them to larger cities. But Montrose Regional Airport’s flights to bigger hubs proved to be what they were looking for, he said.

The local airfield, in some ways, helped get Montrose’s mayor of today.

“The first things that we looked at was: is there an airport that will take us to see our kids?” Anderson said, adding a well-regard health community was the other he and his wife looked at.

A recent study showed the impact of tourism and the airport for the tri-county region of Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel counties. The survey showed millions of dollars come into the local economy due to tourism and that Montrose Regional Airport and Colorado Flights play a significant role in the financial system.

According to the city data, the total economic output from tourism for the tri-region came to $849 million in 2017 which includes direct, indirect and induced economic results. Of that amount, $456 million is a result of scheduled flights at the Montrose Regional Airport, and $294 million from Colorado Flights.

Colorado Flights Alliance is an economic organization that offers air service development and marketing support for the region, according to its website.

Tourism was discovered to support around 7,800 jobs in the area, generating $258 million in labor income. Of those jobs, 3,718 were held by workers in San Miguel County, 2,775 in Montrose County and 1,315 in Ouray County.

“It sort of reaffirmed what I would call a gut feeling that we had,” Anderson said of the results. “No one really argued that tourism was a really important part of our economy. But this put numbers to it.”

The Montrose Regional Airport supported approximately 3,780 of these jobs with a payroll of approximately $132 million. Meanwhile, Colorado Flights was responsible for 2,475 jobs, creating $85 million in labor income.

“We (city councilors) always thought that the airport was a real vital part of our economy and critical to economic development to do business and people to move here - which keeps a community alive and growing,” Anderson said. “But we never had any real data to prove our beliefs and theories.”

The airport also gives residents the chance to fly to major U.S. cities. Currently, such flights include Denver, Dallas, New York City, Phoenix, Atlanta and Los Angeles.

Anderson said he believes people come from outside of Montrose just to fly out to a bigger hub.

“For a lot of small businesses they need that connection to the rest of the country and even the world,” he said. “Having a transportation hub like that is 

vitally important. And companies have told us that, when they looked at places to relocate to.”

Other findings in the study include:

• $417 million in direct visitor spending in 2017.

• Over 1,000 workers commuted from Montrose County to the other communities, with 971 of those worker traveling to and from San Miguel County.

• About 230 companies in Montrose and Ouray counties have business licenses in the towns of Telluride or Mountain Village, including 158 companies from Montrose and 48 from Ridgway.

• Ouray and San Miguel County residents spent $123 million yearly in Montrose County.

“Ultimately, this study confirmed and put some hard detail to what we have all been aware of for quite some time — that our three counties, and the individual communities within them, combine to create one larger functioning and interdependent economy,” said Colorado Flights COO Matt Skinner in a press release. 

“With such a combination and diversity of industries and trends through the region, we are provided with a great advantage to hit above our individual weights with collective efforts, and to be able to plan for economic growth on a macro-regional level rather than as isolated communities.”

The study was managed by the Business Research Division, Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado Boulder and RRC Associates of Boulder.

This survey helps the councilors have a stronger understanding and justification on how city money should be spent toward the airport, Anderson indicated. 

“We believe if we continue to have a strong, vibrant growing airport that will contribute to our economy and these numbers support that,” the mayor said. “It shows what the airport does in terms of contributing toward our economy.”

“It (the study) is helpful to have a reference tool that shows how all of our communities are truly dependent upon one another to be successful. We will use this tool to help guide future decisions related to our community’s infrastructure and programming investments,” City Manager Bill Bell said. 

Andrew Kiser is the Montrose Daily Press’ sports/business writer. Follow him on Twitter @andrew_kpress. 

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