EDITORIAL: Sitting on a gold mine — waiting

Middle Georgia is sitting on a gold mine -- at least as far as economic development is concerned. Many areas are defined by a signature industry. In Durham, North Carolina, it’s the Research Triangle and medical industries. LaGrange is known for its advanced manufacturing prowess with Kia, Caterpillar and Sewon, one of Kia’s major suppliers.

So where is our gold mine? Our gold mine been one of the lures of this region since its founding: transportation. While we no longer depend on the Ocmulgee River to import and export goods, we still sit in the middle of the state with Brosnan Yard, one of the largest rail yards in the Southeast, and we are crisscrossed with three interstate highways. What are we missing?

We are missing a runway. Yes, we have one runway that’s 6,500 feet long and another that’s 5,000 feet long. Both are too short to handle large aircraft such as the Boeing 787, that needs 10,300 feet of runway or the Boeing 747 that needs 9,901 feet or the Boeing 777 that requires 10,500 feet of concrete. Any of the cargo planes needs at least 8,000 feet of runway to land and take off.

A longer runway is needed not because we ever expect jumbo jets to serve the commercial customer, but we would take advantage of what’s already here -- two aircraft maintenance facilities, Timco and Bombardier. Having a longer runway where the jumbo jets could land and be maintained would create a new line of business for the companies and would marry well with other aerospace industries already located here that mainly service Robins Air Force Base and other manufacturers such as Gulfstream. Having a longer runway would mean some of the 1,300 747’s that have been built could be maintained at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport, not to mention the 1,200 Triple Sevens in operation.

What will it take to make it so? Roughly about $20 million or more. The project was on the list of T-SPLOST projects that went down to defeat in 2012 when voters rejected it. While it will be another couple of years before Bibb County can propose another special purpose local option sales tax, the airport runway extension needs to be at the top of the list.

It is not a matter of political will. Mayor Robert Reichert has long been in favor of the project. It is the one -- almost sure -- thing that would deliver high quality, high paying jobs to the area.