Sioux City, Iowa, has a long history of aviation excellence. With a well-maintained airport and runway—dating all the way back to World War II—along with a Federal Aviation Administration flight tower and the presence of the 185th Air Refueling Wing of the Iowa Air National Guard, this community knows a thing or two about the aviation industry.
Recently, the Sioux City community came to together to leverage that experience and infrastructure to make a bid for federal grant money, an investment that would help them build a $7 million to $9 million hangar facility on city-owned land at Sioux Gateway Airport. The $1 million grant it has received from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration will help fund the new 39,400-square-foot aviation center, complete with a fully accredited flight school, two hangar bays and two stories of office/training space.
In addition, the project is slated to create 42 new skilled jobs in the short-term and grow the entire aviation culture in the area well into the future.
“This project is a great example of a public-private partnership,” said Assistant City Manager Mike Collett.
Over two years in the making, the project brings together city government, the Sioux City Chamber of Commerce, Oracle Aviation, Morningside University and other educational institutions in the area.
“We were so pleased to receive this grant,” said Economic Development Director Marty Dougherty, citing the diversification of the local economy, the creation of higher skilled jobs and investment in an industry important to the region as key components that made Sioux City’s grant application so competitive.
“Sioux City has had an airport since World War II,” said Dougherty.
What began as a B-17 airbase, the Sioux Gateway Airport is currently home to the 185th Air Refueling Wing of the Iowa Air National Guard, one of two air national guard bases—and the only flying unit—in the state.
“The 185th is very active,” said Dougherty. “It’s highly respected in the community, not to mention one of the largest employers in the area. It’s a big part of Sioux City, and we want to keep them here a long time.”
On the commercial side, the airport also supports a significant number of commercial and corporate hangars. “This new development will increase the overall activity at the airfield in multiple ways,” said Dougherty.
One way the project will increase activity at the airport is through the fully accredited flight school as part of a new degree program offered through Morningside University. “You can learn to fly at a lot of places,” said Dougherty. “To get a college degree while you’re doing it is a different matter altogether.”
Brian Miller, retired colonel and former commander of the 185th Air Refueling Wing of the Iowa Air National Guard, agrees. “There is a huge demand for pilots forecasted for the next 25 years,” he said. “Morningside University wants to continue to be relevant in today’s economy. It was just a natural fit to have them start a flight program as part of this new structure.”
Partnering with Morningside University is Oracle Aviation, which has entered into a lease agreement with the city. Besides providing flight instructors for the Morningside University degree program, Oracle has agreed to lease the new facility for flight training purposes and invest up to an additional $1 million to finish the interior spaces.
“There aren’t a lot of university-associated flight schools in the country,” said Dougherty, noting that the project brings the potential to partner with a local community college as well. Western Iowa Tech Community College could offer different kinds of training for aviation mechanics and aviation managers. “In many ways, the project will bring in diversified jobs, increase our educational partnerships and create great career paths into high-paying career fields,” said Dougherty.
Miller agrees, stating that “adding a flight school to the project made all the sense in the world.” Tasked with helping to develop the new degree program at Morningside, Miller hopes to attract students nationwide into this program.
“Most flight schools aren’t located at airports with an FAA tower,” he said. “This flight school will allow students to get real-world training all the time. Students will learn to fly in four-season weather and gain exposure to military flight ops, commercial air service, corporate headquarters and an air ambulance,” he said. “Basically, they will get exposed to everything available in the aviation industry.”
Another potential payoff from the project is the opportunity to create new development. “There’s a fair amount of undeveloped ground around our runways,” said Collett. “We know that new development usually encourages more development in the area, so we’re excited about what the future might bring.”
According to Dougherty, the airport is located on the southern edge of the city with a lot of air space around it, which is good for a flight school and other aviation activity.
“We can support almost any aircraft,” he said. “We have this great facility, including utilities and infrastructure, with lots of land around it. It’s located right along Interstate 29, so we hope to grow the business sites around the new facility as well.” One thing is certain. With a new facility, dedicated flight school and potential for the growth of additional, high-paying jobs in the aviation industry, Sioux City is well situated to grow the entire aviation culture in the area well into the future.