Big connections for small businesses
In a city with open spaces and familiar faces, the Durango-La Plata County Airport provides a connection to a world beyond the mountains. While residents of the region are nestled in the valleys and among the peaks, many local businesses rely on the regional airport to serve customers.
According to a study by George Mason University, airports provide an economic boost to regions by offering local businesses a larger market and allowing people to travel farther distances to network with potential business partners or clients.
While around 400,000 people fly in and out of Durango-La Plata County airport annually, a portion of the activity at the regional airport is from incoming and outgoing cargo. In 2015, it received 1.7 million pounds of cargo through both UPS and FedEx.
April’s Garden in Durango is one example of a business that is able to provide a wider range and better quality products for patrons because of the regional airport. Though many flowers are locally grown, April’s Garden also ships in exotic flowers from around the world. Several times a week, shipments of fresh flowers are flown into the airport via FedEx and delivered to the shop on Main Avenue.
“Without overnight delivery, it would be really hard to meet my client’s expectations,” said Natalie McLain, manager of the Durango store.
However, April’s Garden is not the only business affected by the airport. For three years, Animas City Theatre has been providing Durango with entertainment in the form of dance, music and film. Though some acts drive to the destination, others fly into the regional airport from across the country to perform.
According to James Mirabal, manager of Animas City Theatre, it is sometimes hard to book acts for the venue because it is difficult for the talent to travel here.
“We are off the beaten path, as far as tour routes go,” Mirabal said. “So it can be challenging connecting a band from one place to another and getting them here in between.”
While these vastly different businesses currently thrive, the airport expansion will bring opportunity for improvements to both.
April’s Garden, for example, could see a shift in shipment costs which would benefit both the business and its customers.
“With the expansion of the airport I feel, if it would bring in larger planes, it would be less of a fee for freight on board rather than overnight FedEx fee,” McLain said. “That would be huge because then prices for my product could be lowered. I could offer more product for the price people are paying.”
For Animas City Theatre, the expansion would provide the venue with the opportunity to be more accessible to various artists.
“I believe the airport expansion would help. It would give us more options as far as ticket fare and airlines to get the talent in,” Mirabal said.
Mirabal said he also believes it would affect the amount of patrons the Theatre entertains.
“When we have national touring acts come to our venue, we see in ticket sales buyers from all over the country flying in to see that group in such an intimate venue,” he said.
So as voters consider whether or not to support the airport expansion, it is important to remember the region’s small businesses, and the improvements made possible by a thriving airport that connects the businesses – and its customers – to what matters.
Flying to Paradise at Purgatory
Each year more than 1.2 million tourists visit the Four Corners region. Beautiful views, an endless array of outdoor activities and a vibrant local culture make this region an attractive destination for adventurous vacationers year round. Purgatory Resort, just 25 miles north of Durango, lures more than 500,000 visitors annually.
“We get a mixture of locals and destination visitors,” said Greg Ralph, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Purgatory Resort. “The locals are very big about bringing destination visitors to us. Their friends and family come, but more than half of our visitors are from out of state.”
Because Purgatory draws half a million visitors each year, it is an asset to the region’s economy. The resort employs more than 1,000 people in the winter season. In addition to payroll, Ralph said Purgatory contributes to the local economy by spending as many dollars as they can locally for other goods and services. Moreover, Purgatory draws tourists who spend more money.
“We estimate probably a quarter of the spending they do is at the mountain,” he said. “There is another three times that much money spent in the local community with lodging, dining, other activities, gas, groceries – all the things they need to supplement their vacations.”
While many of these visitors drive from other areas in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Southern California, a report from 2014 indicates nearly 100,000 new visitors flew into the Durango-La Plata County Airport. In 2015, spending by airport visitors generated $43 million in revenue for La Plata County.
Ralph said guests that travel from greater distances, such as Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, tend to spend the most money in La Plata County.
“The further they come to visit us, usually the longer they stay, the more they are going to need when they get here and the more they spend,” he said.
While mother nature is Purgatory’s biggest challenge, the resort also faces adversity with guest’s ability to reach the resort. Though the road access to Purgatory is good, the airport is too small to serve long distance travelers adequately.
“There are some challenges with our guests getting here,” Ralph said. “I think the flights are getting more and more difficult to book on a consistent basis. Flights are filling up. There are not enough flights in and out of some markets, and we don’t have the competition we need.”
Because of these challenges, Purgatory is trying to work with the community to improve the access to the region and the resort. Ralph believes the airport is vital to both locals and tourists. He said he believes supporting the airport expansion could bring in more flights and competition, making flying into Durango La Plata County Airport more affordable for families. Without approving the expansion, Ralph says he believes it would hurt not only the resort, but the entire region.
“It sort of leaves us behind,” Ralph said. “If we don’t make those improvements as other communities are, we could lose flights to other regional destinations and it will hurt our whole economy. It is essential the airport is improved upon.”
Connecting the Fam
In a technological world keeping in touch is easy, but family traditions and gatherings do not feel the same through FaceTime or a Skype video call.
Though technology helps incite conversation, nothing beats the warmth of a real embrace and welcoming arms. The regional airport provides a service to connect individuals with their loved ones for the moments they don’t want to miss.
For families separated by state lines, the time saved by flying – rather than driving – is time spent smiling, laughing and reminiscing with loved ones.
Without the regional airport, college students and other residents traveling to and from Durango would surely waste more than an entire day or two of vacation time traveling. In fact, that is the reality for most traveling to or from Durango to see family.
More than 200,000 people choose to spend hours driving to an international airport. While some cite delays and cancellations as one reason to avoid the regional airport, others refer to the affordability of flights.
Because the regional airport is ill-equipped to handle traffic and parking of larger planes, airlines have stopped servicing the airport. Without more options and competition for air service, airfares soar.
Expanding the airport would only improve the opportunity for more airlines to serve residents and ensure passengers experience less delays or cancellations. With more options, flights would become more affordable for all.
With more affordable options, the whole family can connect with one another easily and more often. Vote yes to expand the Durango-La Plata County Airport, connecting you to what matters.
One Traveler’s Tale
Each day, travelers come and go from the Durango-La Plata County airport – some for the first time and some for the final time.
Then there are others, like Bayfield resident Rick Vojta, who rely on the airport often to travel for work.
According to the Global Business Travel Association, Americans make more than 488 million trips via airplanes annually for business purposes. Though businessmen and women in the Four Corners region account for a small percentage of that number, they do exist.
Vojta, a commercial real estate appraiser who works for a company headquartered in Denver, flies out of the regional airport to various locations to serve his clients across the nation.
“I travel, on average, two or three times per month,” he said. “It doesn’t always require getting on an airplane, but I would say half the time, if not more, I do have to use air service.”
Regional Airport Experience
Since moving to Bayfield from Northern Illinois in March 2015, Vojta has flown eight times for business and twice for personal use. He said using Durango-La Plata County airport is much easier compared to previous airport experiences in Illinois, which required a two-hour drive, long security lines and navigating through people by the hundreds.
“Using Durango’s airport is a piece of cake,” Vojta said. “It’s a thirty-minute drive from my house. You can pull right in and parking is cheap. Security lines are usually short, so when it works, it is really great.”
However, like many other travelers who use the regional airport, Vojta has his bad experiences, too.
Due to the airport’s current state, travelers often face delays and cancellations, especially in the Winter. The airport has only one de-icing truck and lacks the proper storage for de-icing equipment and spare parts for planes.
Because of the lack of storage and room for parking additional planes that might need a new part, flights are sometimes cancelled mid-air.
“I think the issue is the airport, as it currently exists, is inadequate to grow,” Vojta said. “I find during the Winter time, it is really bad. We sit a lot on the tarmac waiting to take off or waiting for de-icing.”
As a frequent flier, Vojta has come to expect the delays and plans accordingly, but even with proper planning, making connections causes concern. Unless a traveler’s final destination is Dallas, Denver or Phoenix, delays increase the degree of difficulty in making connections.
“It puts a lot of stress on making my connections,” he said. “Fortunately – knock on wood – I have not yet missed a connection through Denver or Phoenix, but I have had times where I am sprinting in the airport terminal and just barely making it.”
Obstacles such as these may be one reason more than 200,000 people opt to drive longer distances to fly from another airport. Another factor that drives passengers to international airports could be price.
“If I had to travel a lot for personal purposes, I would probably be driving to Albuquerque or Denver because Durango is very costly,” Vojta said. “When my family first flew here in January of 2015, we had some pretty reasonable airfares. But once we moved here and I started traveling – even if I try to book out in advance, which isn’t always doable with my schedule – my average cost is in the $700 range, which is pretty shocking.”
If the airport does not expand, it will not be able to provide airlines with adequate space to function in the terminal or park the larger aircraft that airlines, such as Frontier, use now. Without these advancements, the airport will not be able to attract new airlines and airfare will remain expensive without new competition.
Affecting the economy
Due to his work as a real estate appraiser, Vojta is familiar with a vast array of economies in Western United States and other tourist-driven towns similar to Durango. Successful communities with steady economic growth have often invested in air service which is a huge factor to their strong, growing economies, he said.
“Certainly, I think Durango has had a very good economic run,” he said. “But I think without making that investment there is a chance that our economic growth could slow.”