SWEETWATER COUNTY — Sweetwater County leaders have responded to comments made by Casper Mayor Bruce Knell in a recent interview in which he expressed opposition to funding air service in Wyoming and called for the closure of several airports, including Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport.
Oil City News reported last week that in an interview with Wyoming News Now, Mayor Knell said he opposed providing tax dollars to SkyWest, and believes the only airports to remain operational in Wyoming should be in Casper and Jackson.
“SkyWest is a $1.2 billion company. They absolutely should not receive any of taxpayers’ money … to help them with their business,” Mayor Knell said, according to Oil City News. He went on to say that the state needs to eliminate Minimum Revenue Guarantees (MRGs).
“We need to do away with these MRGs statewide. The state needs to quit funding them. We need to do away with the airport in Gillette, in Rock Springs, in Evanston, in Sheridan, in Cody, in Riverton. They all need to go away. We need to have one international airport in Casper, and one airport in Jackson,” Knell said in the interview, Oil City News reported.
In a letter, Sweetwater County Commission Chairman Keaton West, Rock Springs Mayor Max Mickelson, Green River Mayor Pete Rust, Rock Springs-Sweetwater County Airport Board Chairman Jim Wamsley, and Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport Director Devon Brubaker expressed strong opposition to Knell’s comments. The Sweetwater County leaders stated that the airport provides critical economic activity, and connectivity for Sweetwater County residents.
“The Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport is a critical economic driver for Southwest Wyoming, supporting over $36.9 million in annual economic activity including $25.5 million in annual spending and 324 jobs resulting in $11.4 million in annual payroll,” the letter states. “Much like your local airport, our airport provides critical connectivity to the global economy for dozens of commercial and industrial employers in Southwest Wyoming while also providing residents connectivity to healthcare, friends, family and leisure destinations, improving the overall quality of life for our workforce.”
While you may be willing to risk your local economy’s vitality, we are not. Our airport and its air service are foundationally critical assets to our community.~ Sweetwater County Leadership
The letter goes on to express the importance of the airport in local industries and services.
“In addition to this critical connectivity, our airport supports valuable services and industries including, but not limited to, emergency medical transport, aerial firefighting, rangeland management, aerial surveying, advanced mineral exploration, wildlife management, electrical generation/transmission patrols, and pipeline patrols. Overall, our combined investment in the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport is far eclipsed by the economic value to our community,” the letter states.
The letter argues that not only is the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport important to Sweetwater County’s economy, but each regional airport across Wyoming supports “robust economic activity” in their respective local areas.
“Overall, Wyoming’s airports support over $2 billion in annual economic activity including in our key tourism, mineral extraction, agriculture, and advanced manufacturing industries,” the letter states.
The leaders said in the letter that the investment into commercial air service in Wyoming “is well worth it”. The letter claims that a recent statewide survey shows that the $60.5 million that has been invested in air service MRGs from 2004 to 2020 across Wyoming have produced a direct economic output of $808 million for an average return on investment (ROI) of 12.36 for every dollar invested.
“That means that every dollar invested resulted in over $13 of economic output. Furthermore, the investment supported over 9,500 jobs, produced 451,000 incremental visitors with a total spending of over $583 million, and drove incremental state tax revenues of over $55.8 million,” the letter explains.
The letter goes on to say that due to the economic challenges that air carriers face in providing services to rural communities, commercial air service would be lost in communities such as Sweetwater County without the investment in air service MRGs.
“We hope that you will take the time to meet with your local airport leaders to gain a better understanding of the critical importance your airport plays to the City of Casper and Natrona County,” the letter concludes.