Wisconsin County Airport Attracts Industrial Park as Neighbor

Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 

Fond du Lac County Airport

For a small general aviation facility, Fond du Lac County Airport (FLD) in Wisconsin has surprisingly large snow removal equipment at its disposal. The best part is, the airport doesn't own the equipment, and it even collects a few thousand dollars each year in the process.

The arrangement sounds suspiciously lopsided, but it's not. It's actually a mutually beneficial relationship between the county-owned airport and Wausau Equipment, a manufacturer of high-speed heavy-duty snow removal equipment for airports. The company needed runway space to test and demonstrate its equipment; the county wanted to build local industry and increase its tax base. Wausau Equipment's interest in building a new facility near the airport inspired the county to develop the Fond du Lac Aeronautical Industrial Park, and both entities got what they wanted ... plus a little more.

Facts & Figures

Project: Aeronautical Industrial Park

Location: Next to Fond du Lac County Airport (Wisconsin)

Size: 73 acres, subdivided into 13 lots

Prime Tenant: Wausau Equipment

Facility Costs: $2.4 million (land, building and equipment)

Construction Contractor: Keller Airport Access

Fee: $5,100 (in 2009)

Details: County fast-tracks development of industrial park. Tenant gains runway access to test and demonstrate its snow removal equipment in exchange for county taxes, airport access fees and in-kind snow removal service.

Everybody's Happy

Before construction, the 73-acre parcel of farmland contiguous to the airport generated approximately $1,000 in county taxes. Wausau Equipment will pay approximately $10,000 per year for its six-acre parcel alone.

Sam Tobias, director of Planning and Parks for Fond du Lac County, notes that the company's initial $1.5 million construction costs are already on the county tax rolls. Currently, Wausau Equipment is the only tenant in the industrial park, which has been divided into

13 lots ranging in size from 3 to 8.4 acres. As other development occurs, county tax revenues will be boosted even further. "The industrial park is not part of a tax increment district," explains Tobias. "Improvements go directly on the tax rolls the following year. There are immediate benefits."

The airport sees plenty of growth potential, too - even though the industrial park is next to rather than on airport property. Figuring that park tenants may also want corporate hangar space, the airport has set aside land to build additional hangars to meet potential demand.

Airport director Lee Perrizo is extremely pleased having Wausau Equipment close at hand. The company not only pays the county a fee for runway access ($5,100 in 2009, with small annual increases throughout the ten-year contract), it also provides in-kind snow removal services - a true value during Wisconsin's tough winters.

"It's been a great relationship so far," Perrizo says. "We now have access to some great snow removal equipment, something that we could never afford given the size and budget of our airport."

The airport handles most of its own snow removal; Wausau Equipment lends its services during unusually harsh weather. "We had a bad (storm) situation last year," Perrizo recalls. "Their big brooms were fantastic in helping us clear it out."

Peter Tiffe, vice president of sales and marketing for Wausau Equipment, says the relationship has been a perfect match from day one. "It's good for the county, which is trying to bring in new industry, and it's ideal for us having an R&D and manufacturing facility an hour north of our headquarters where we can test our big 20-foot brooms and snow removal equipment," Tiffe explains. "We can drive our equipment out the front door and be on the runway in 60 seconds."

Wausau will assemble its large 4 X 4 chassis, as well as front strut brooms and tow brooms, at the new Fond du Lac facility. Manufactured components for the equipment are produced at company headquarters, just 60 miles south.

"This whole project is such a win-win for the county, the airport and Wausau Equipment," Tiffe exclaims. "It's just working out great."

While the FAA generally frowns on "through-the-fence" operations, a detailed contract was developed to stipulate specific guidelines for Wausau Equipment's runway access. Operators must carry airport identification and be certified yearly in a ground vehicle operation/airport security training course approved by the airport manager. All vehicles must also be equipped with ground radios for communication with airport personnel, and operators must be trained in proper communications protocol.

In addition, equipment operators must secure permission from airport personnel for runway access. If an emergency such as an unscheduled landing arises, they are trained to leave the runway immediately. Access is also suspended each summer, when more than 10,000 aircraft converge on the area for the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual AirVenture Oshkosh event.

About the Airport

Fond du Lac County Airport is a publically owned general aviation facility with two asphalt runways: a main north/south runway almost 6,000 feet long and a 3,600-foot cross runway.

The 586-acre airport averages approximately 170 operations per day: 95% general aviation, 5% air taxi and less than 1% military. Its fixed-base operator includes three hangars. Eighty aircraft are based at the airport: 75% single engine, 20% multi-engine and 5% jets.

Quick Courtship

The win/win relationship between Wausau Equipment and Fond du Lac County began in December 2007, when the company approached the Fond du Lac County Economic Development Corporation (FDLEDC) about building a new facility near the airport.

Officials were interested in the proposal, but the county did not own the parcel the company sought. It was privately owned farmland being held in a family trust, but it was for sale. County officials moved quickly to purchase the 73 acres, and the development project was readied for an expedited takeoff.

By August 2008, the land purchase was complete, approvals from the FAA and Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics were secured, land improvements were underway and Wausau Equipment had broken ground. In February 2009, the company moved into its new 22,000-square-foot facility.

Allen Buechel, the longest-serving county executive in Wisconsin history, sees the project as proof positive that governmental bodies can, in fact, move quickly and efficiently.

"It's pretty unique," Buechel notes, "to go from a concept to an industrial park with a functioning tenant in just 15 months. We're pretty proud of that."

He also sees the project as a needed growth opportunity: "In any community, if you're not growing economically, you're beginning to die."

Wausau Equipment's current workforce at the facility - about eight high-tech and engineering employees - could double in the near future, notes Tiffe. "We have an option on an additional six acres and room to expand, with the intent to develop more products and hire more people," he says.

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