Chennault Park primed and ready for growth
Special to the American Press
Chennault Park, which offers ready-to-develop properties adjacent to what’s already a thriving complex of aviation businesses, is primed and ready for the future.
Kevin Melton, executive director of Chennault International Airport Authority, said over the last year, the facility has been building up its infrastructure and identifying ways to bring in additional clients.
“Primarily we have focused on road access, understanding where the utilities lie — all the preparatory work that goes along with economic development,” Melton said. “We have been using Cushman & Wakefield — which has an international footprint — together with NAI-Latter & Blum locally and they’re tasked with finding opportunities and prospective clients to come in here and build out and grow within Chennault.”
He said in addition to finding clients, the firms have helped the airport understand deficiencies that need to be addressed in order to attract those clients.
“The infrastructure was one of those key components,” he said. “Several people are interested but they need better roads built to get to their sites.”
Melton said 2020 is going to bring some good things to the airport.
“I’ve already redirected $1.6 million to build out the main and only entryway into the airport, which is important because it does not satisfy the traffic flow in and out of the airport,” Melton said. “That road supports not just the 1,500-person workforce that we have, but it supports the 3,000 students coming in every single day to Sowela, it supports the Sheriff’s Office who has the training academy on the southside of the airfield, and Harbor House. This is for the community as a whole. Building the two lanes into a four-lane road will bring great capacity and it’s a good first impression. It shows people we are a center of excellence and we are primed and ready to support future growth and the future of airspace here at Chennault.”
Also this year, Chennault Park’s newest tenant — Citadel — will break ground on a 70,000-plus square-foot cabinet-making construction facility in addition to renting the airport’s Hangar H. When the construction is completed, Citadel is expected to employ an additional 100 workers.
Chennault will also be building a 10,000-square-foot aircargo facility, funding for which Melton credits to the advocacy of state Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Suphur, and former longtime Jennings legislator Jerry Theunissen, who has served as Chennault’s legislative advisor.
“We were able to get $2 million in capital outlay and are anticipating the remaining $1 million in the next fiscal year. That’s enabled us to get a complete design and move towards a ground breaking we expect at the end of 2020,” he said. “That will be about a 12-month project to build and in the interim we anticipate working with an aircargo consultant who will be guiding us and connecting us with potential clients so that when the facility is completed we will be able to begin some form of operations.”
Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries has also signed a lease for 10 acres to build a new administrative facility, he said.
While Chennault’s main focus is the safety and compliance of air travel, Melton said the facility is also focused on economic development and bringing more jobs to the area.
“We really want to build out to that 11,000-person workforce that we believe we can get to that would eventually create $780 million in sales tax revenue for the parish and up to $1.1 billion in sales tax revenue for the state,” he said.
Chennault’s strategic location at the center of the Gulf Coast provides access to a wide swath of the southern United States. The park’s infrastructure, incentives, low costs and ample room for expansion make it an attractive site for new development, he said.
“Chennault Park is also a concept and brand that has the ability to grow our existing tenants workforce,” he said. “There are six major parcels of land that equate to well over 700 acres of land that we are aiming to develop.”
Already Chennault Park’s tenants include Northrop Grumman, Landlocked Aviation Services, Citadel Completions, Louisiana Millwork (Masonite), Million Air, Bechtel, Habitat for Humanity and Tadlock LLC.
Melton said Chennault’s continuity of service and economic power is real — people work there, they gather there for huge events like the airshow and Air Force One landings, their children visit and learn about the airspace industry and what related careers they might want to explore.
“Chennault brings economic diversity so that we are not completely reliant on any one industry,” he said. “We’re an economic driver for this community, we have the ability to grow and expand, and the money we invest goes right back into the pockets of our local workforce. This is the taxpayers’ airport and we are trying to do good for the taxpayer.”