Why an Airport at El Toro Is So Critical : Development: The county needs the facility to maintain its economic vitality.
History has shown that those cities that were located on rivers and oceans became the commercial and cultural hubs of the world. In modern times, the “ports” of commerce are airports, and now we have an opportunity to build such an airport. A mixed-use complex with an international airport at its core on the site of El Toro Marine Corps Air Station would not just be a nice thing to have in Orange County, it is a necessary thing to have. Its presence is critical for the county to maintain its vitality as an economic region. We cannot let an opportunity like this slip by us.
I have reached this conclusion not solely on the basis of its estimated annual impact on employment and income growth, although that impact is considerable as suggested by the results of a recent study undertaken by Economics Research Associates (ERA):
* Regional gross output impact $4.4 billion;
* Orange County gross output impact $1.8 billion;
* Regional jobs created 52,400;
* Orange County jobs created 21,645;
* Orange County payroll impact $622 million;
* State taxes generated $86 million;
* Local taxes generated $416 million.
It should be noted that the above figures do not even include the significant economic impact that would result from airport and facility construction costs estimated at $1.4 billion.
Even more important than the direct economic impact on employment and income growth are the indirect effects of an international airport that relate to Orange County’s emergence as an international trade center in the rapidly growing Pacific Rim market. During the past 20 years, international trade has emerged as a critical engine of economic growth in the county. This is reflected by the fact that Orange County as compared to the United States has a much higher percentage of its workers employed in high value-added export-intensive industries such as “computer equipment” and “electronics equipment.”
In a globally interdependent marketplace, Orange County needs to have the transportation infrastructure that will allow us to be a global “player” in an increasingly competitive economic environment.
* That means having a transportation system where air-cargo flights can emanate from Orange County.
* That means allowing the 40,000 businesses in Orange County to transport time-sensitive materials from within the county.
* That means constructing an air cargo/ industrial complex that would integrate “just-in-time” manufacturing, inventory and distribution facilities with air freight systems.
* That means giving international tourists an opportunity to fly directly into Orange County.
These needs cannot be met by existing airports. John Wayne Airport is expected to reach its maximum annual capacity of 8.4 million passengers by the year 2000. By then, conservative estimates suggest there will be an unmet need of 4.1 million air passengers that will increase to 7.4 million by 2010. These estimates assume that another 5 million air passengers will be served by other regional airports such as Los Angeles International Airport that are already near capacity levels. As for air cargo, it is conservatively estimated that an El Toro Airport would handle 250,000 tons in 1995 and increase to 400,000 tons by 2010.
As a university president, I am reticent about strongly supporting something as controversial as the El Toro Airport. But given the importance of such a facility in helping ensure Orange County’s economic viability, it would be irresponsible for me not to go on record and voice my position as clearly and convincingly as I can.
Failure to capture the El Toro Airport opportunity will place a cap on the potentials for economic growth in the county. It will diminish job prospects in Orange County for our children and the future of graduates of our schools (including Chapman University!). Without those prospects, these young people with their economic worth will seek opportunity elsewhere. And there is nothing more devastating to an urban economy than a “brain drain” where the best and brightest are attracted to other areas.
The seeds of economic decay take a long time to germinate. By the time realization sets in that one is part of an economically deteriorating community, it is often too late to do anything about it. Now we have a golden opportunity to do something truly significant. But it is up to us to take charge and make it happen.