Passenger service returning to MidAmerica St. Louis Airport is not the only example of business picking up at the metro-east airport.
"The only thing we get measured on is interest in passenger service, but there is lot more economy growing here," Airport Director Tim Cantwell said.
On Saturday, a 767 cargo plane carrying 42 tons, about $500,000 worth, of berries from Argentina landed at the Mascoutah airport. Cantwell said this is the first international air shipment to arrive at MidAmerica.
The perishable freight is being stored in a refrigerated warehouse at the airport before it is flown and distributed to China. Cantwell said perishables like fruits and vegetables make up 80 percent of the cargo that will be landing at the airport.
Last month, the airport announced its partnership with Ningbo Lishe International Airport, located in the Zhiezhang Province of China, to create a trade route between the two facilities. Cantwell said Ningbo has a population of 9 million and is within two-hours drive of another 200 million people.
North Bay Produce Inc., of Traverse City, Mich., opened the $5.7 million, 36,448-square-foot, refrigerated warehouse in June. North Bay made an upfront cash investment of $2.15 million in return for the county taking ownership of the warehouse after 15 years.
St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern calls this "a great step" for North Bay Produce.
"They are a proven company and know that the world needs fresh healthy produce," Kern said. "They can reach those world markets on flights into and out of MidAmerica."
This follows Allegiant Air's return to the airport last Wednesday afternoon. Non-stop, round-trip flights to Orlando Sanford International Airport located near Orlando, Fla., are now flying twice a week from MidAmerica Airport. This is the second time the Las Vegas-based airline has offered flights from the metro-east airport.
Initially, Allegiant started passenger flights to Orlando and Las Vegas at MidAmerica in February 2006 before shutting down operations at MidAmerica in November 2008. This marks the return of passenger service to MidAmerica for the first time since early 2009.
Meanwhile, Cantwell said the Boeing Corp. is expanding its work force to a third shift in a subassembly plant for military aircraft housed at MidAmerica Airport. The multinational aerospace and defense corporation began operations there in February 2011. Cantwell said the work force at Boeing's airport site will go beyond 70 employees. In February, Boeing projected 75 employees would be working there by 2013.
"It's an internal business, and we just host it," Cantwell said. "The parking lot is full every day."
But the airport has long been a consistent loser for St. Clair County taxpayers. In August, a county audit revealed the airport reported $8.4 million in operating losses in 2011. However, that amount was $3.5 million, or 30 percent, less than the $11.93 million deficit reported in 2010.
Cantwell said recent activity at the airport reflects the expectations that he and county officials have had all along.
"The application of the business plan we've been doing doesn't have a timeline, so it's growing it according to what we thought we would have," he said. "It's just taking a little longer."
Contact reporter Will Buss at email@example.com or 239-2526.