Transportation and commerce are as intertwined as the images of Orville and Wilbur Wright, those ingenious inventors of the first flying machine 100 years ago this December.
Whether its by plane, train or automobile, the ability to move people and products from Point A to Point B is essential to a vital economy. That's why devising ways to improve transportation is usually ranked high in priority by government leaders.
And that's also why central Minnesota businesses should support Heartland Gateways, a two-year program designed to expand air service in this region. Partners in the project are the cities of St. Cloud and Brainerd and the Little Falls-based Initiative Foundation. Funding comes from the partners ($67,000 each) as well as grants of $1 million from the U.S. Transportation Department and $100,000 from the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Better flight times and more flight options are the goals of Heartland Gateways. It's difficult to gauge the potential demand for air travel when flight schedules are not conducive to the travelers' schedules.
Torrey Carlblom, project manager for Heartland Gateways, maintains the St. Cloud to Brainerd market is under utilized, with 81 percent of the air travelers driving to the Twin Cities.
Through use of a flight bank, where businesses pledge part of their annual travel budget to flights in and out of St. Cloud and Brainerd and receive a 12.5 percent rebate, Carlblom hopes to prove there's a high demand for air travel in this region. This money-in-the-bank assurance can be used as leverage to convince Mesaba/Northwest Airlink to upgrade its service and/or to recruit another air carrier with service to another hub.
This is a chance for critics of the Brainerd airport's flight schedules and service to show they're willing to take action to improve air service. The push for increased customers couldn't come at a better time for the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport, which has started construction of a new runway.
Think globally, fly locally might be the unofficial slogan of this community effort.
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