West Star flies high

The special meeting of the Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority this morning is critical, not just to the airport, but for the entire community. However, the decision before the Airport Authority should be an easy one.

The authority board is being asked to approve an $8 million, public-private partnership that will allow West Star Aviation, Inc. to significantly expand its service facilities for high-end private jets and result in up to 150 new top-paying jobs at the company that has been a fixture at Grand Junction’s airport for more than 60 years.

We trust members of the Airport Authority will recognize the importance of this project and the economic benefits it will bring. And we congratulate all of those people involved in bringing the project forward — the management of West Star, the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, the Colorado Aeronautical Board and the leadership at the Grand Junction Regional Airport, especially Airport Manager Rex Tippetts and Airport Authority Chairman Denny Granum.

Although West Star has a long history in Grand Junction, its expansion here wasn’t a slam dunk. The company operates similar facilities in four other states. It engaged in a competitive bidding process with its host cities, and ultimately decided on Grand Junction as the best place to build and operate its new painting and completion facility.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Airport Authority will build a new, 45,000-square-foot building that it will lease to West Star. There is no local tax money involved, and the lease West Star is to sign with the airport will cover 150 percent of the payments on the note for the building.

The economic benefit to the community comes first with jobs — 50 new jobs in the first year that average $52,000 each. That will grow over five years to an anticipated 150 new jobs.

But that’s not the only benefit.

The new facility is expected to bring large corporate jets from all over the country and other parts of the world. Typically, their flight crews remain in the community for several weeks or even several months while the plane is being worked on, and owners often visit to check on the status of their planes. Also, many owners are expected to take advantage of other services West Star offers in Grand Junction, such as upgrading of their planes’ avionics, while they are having their aircraft repainted.

This is the sort of economic development many local people eagerly seek. It helps diversify the local economy and enlarges local involvement in the aerospace economy, in which Colorado is already No. 2 in the country.

It allows the expansion of an existing local business, rather than the recruiting of a new business from out of the area, which would have less incentive to remain here. West Star already has a five-year contract for the maintenance and painting of large, general-aviation aircraft. Finally, the project will bring jobs that pay above the prevailing wage.

Approving the contract today will be a win for the the airport, for this community and for West Star. Those are victories that deserve to be celebrated.


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