Justin Dawes, Staff Reporter, Grand Rapids Business Journal: Holland aviator Gradus Geurink created a small grass runway for private planes in 1942. After 75 years, that small venture, now the West Michigan Regional Airport, has an estimated $164 million impact to Holland and Zeeland area.
The airport operates as a general aviation airport and serves as the landing spot for multiple businesses, including Herman Miller, Haworth, Gentex, Zeeland Farm Services and Menards, which has planes land three times per week. The airport also is home to Wings of Mercy, a nonprofit organization that provides transportation to distant medical facilities for patients who cannot afford to fly.
Along with the economic impact estimate, the 2017 statistics from the Michigan Aviation Systems Plan under the Michigan Department of Transportation estimate the airport has resulted in 34,650 aircraft operations and 1,690 jobs directly related to airport operations.
Geurink privately owned the airport until 1978. Edgar Prince of Prince Corporation owned the airport until 1986 and used it to build his business. Then the city of Holland owned it until 2008, and now, the West Michigan Airport Authority, a regional collaboration of Holland, Zeeland and Park Township, owns it.
The airport has yearly revenue of more than $266,000 from streams such as flowage fees and leases. The revenue goes toward basic operating costs.
“I think we’ve operated pretty thriftily,” said James Storey, West Michigan Airport Authority spokesman. “We haven’t expended a lot of money on thrills. We just do what we need to do to keep existing customers and attract new ones.”
For the past 10 years, the airport has received an additional $250,000 millage from the residents of Holland, Zeeland and Park Township, which goes toward airport improvements.
There is a vote Tuesday, Nov. 7, to decide a renewal of the millage. It would not increase but would be approved for 10 years, as opposed to five years like the past two allotments.
If the millage is passed, the next plans are to replace airport lighting with LED lights, which would save on energy costs, as well build a crosswind runway, which would allow planes to land no matter which direction the wind is blowing. Without the crosswind runway, planes cannot land when the wind is blowing in certain directions, so they have to go elsewhere, and Holland loses business.
Without the millage, those improvements will not happen in the near future.
“Our record is strong on being wise stewards of the tax dollars you have entrusted to us. We’ve kept all of the promises we said we’d use the money for,” Storey said, noting the airport is debt-free.
Storey’s goal is to make the airport a place where businesses want to be.
“People forget that when you’re trying to invite a new business to come into the community and provide jobs, people with those kinds of plans — you don’t meet them at the bus station. You meet them at the airport,” he said. “And that’s their first impression of the community.”
The airport recently celebrated its 75th anniversary with a book, “Ascent,” written by Myron J. Kukla, highlighting the airport’s history. The 110-page book of stories, interviews and photos is available for $19.95 at the West Michigan Regional Airport, 60 Geurink Blvd., Holland. Residents of Holland, Zeeland and Park Township can purchase the book for $10 because of their tax support to the airport.