Airport injects $20.8 billion -- That was facility's economic impact on Memphis last year, study says

June 23, 2005

By David Flaum

Memphis International Airport pumped $20.8 billion into the area economy last year and supported one of every four area jobs, much of that flowing from the FedEx Express hub.

That's the conclusion of an economic impact study done for the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority by economists at the Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research at University of Memphis.

"The single largest economic engine in Memphis starts and stops with
Memphis International Airport," the study said.

Arnold Perl, chairman of the airport authority, is scheduled to present the research today to the Economic Club of Memphis. The 4 billion pounds of goods that landed last year generated about $19.5 billion of the goods and services tied to the airport, along with nearly 156,000 jobs, the report said. Nearly 94 percent of the cargo came through the FedEx hub.

Passenger flights - 393,690 of them carrying 5.2 million passengers
- produced another $1.2 billion and 9,500 jobs.

Construction accounted for $60 million more and 542 jobs. All told, about 166,000 jobs depend in some way on the airport. Researchers thought that was a big number, too, said John Gnuschke,
director of the bureau. So they checked out other cities and found the numbers made sense.

"The fact that our airport is so heavily air cargo generates a lot more impact that if it was just passenger driven," Gnuschke said. It's not just cargo itself, he said, it's the distribution
businesses that feed off of it.

That gives the area the ability to retain companies, to encourage them to expand and to attract new ones, said Marc Jordan, president of the Memphis Regional Chamber.

"I don't know how you could ever put a price tag on that," he said. "Parts of the world are so much larger and have huge resources compared with ours, yet we're able to compete with that every day."

Executives of companies ranging from Cell Genesys, which creates vaccines, to Medtronic Sofamor Danek and Smith & Nephew, which make bone and joint replacements, to Flextronics and Jabil Circuit, assemblers of electronic goods, all cited the airport as a factor in locating facilities here.

In many cases, "the FedEx component is critical to their operations," said Mark Herbison, economic development director of the chamber.

"The value of being right next to a hub is very difficult to quantify, but they (companies) wouldn't be here without it," said David Kemme, professor of economics at U of M and executive director
of the Economic Club.

That applies to the passenger terminal and Northwest Airlines hub, with direct flights to 94 cities.

A survey of chamber members included in the economic impact study bore that out.

While less than 25 percent of 420 companies surveyed used the airport to send out or receive goods, 80 percent had employees riding on flights to and from the airport and nearly 60 percent had customers or business associates come through Memphis International.

"A lot of companies are here partially because they have easy access
to air travel," Gnuschke said.

Combine the dollars generated by cargo, passenger and construction with the intangibles and you have a world-class airport, Kemme said.

"We have a lot of other problems to deal with, but this takes you down the road to being a first-class city," he said.

- David Flaum: 529-2330


Total impact in 2004:
Direct spending: $10.68 billion
Other goods and services: $10.1 billion
Earnings*: $5.95 billion
Jobs: 165,901
Direct spending: $10.04 billion
Other goods and services: $9.49 billion
Earnings*: $5.59 billion
Jobs: 155,872
Direct spending: $611.48 million
Other spending: $577.06 million
Jobs: 9,487
Direct spending: $30.78 million
Other spending: $29.08 million
Jobs: 542

Source: The Economic Impact of Memphis International Airport
* Earnings are included in direct and other spending figures.

Copyright, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN. Used with permission.