Business boom at Lakeland Linder airport continues

The numbers are in, and they are big. According to a recent study, Lakeland Linder International Airport has an economic impact of $1.5 billion on the area.

It is a little less surprising when you consider its exponential growth.

Ten or so years ago, 800 people worked at the airport. That number has soared to 3,400, in no small part due to the companies that continue to set up shop there.

Recently, Amazon Air and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with its famed Hurricane Hunter planes, moved in.

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Draken International, which refurbishes fighter jets, made Lakeland Linder its home, as well.

"It’s the big things that everybody pays attention to, but it is the little businesses as well that keeps us going," Gene Conrad, the airport’s director, told FOX 13.

A number of smaller operations have set down roots there too over the years.

Every business that pops up at the airport raises Lakeland’s profile.

Experts say it also helps the community at large.

"Higher paying jobs means people are spending more money on homes," said Ashley Cheek, of the Lakeland Economic Development Council. "They’re spending more money out at restaurants, on cars. Ultimately, that just increases the tax base of Lakeland, and we think that’s a really encouraging thing."

By all accounts, more expansion is in the works.

NOAA is increasing the size of its building, adding more planes, and plans to hire more people in coming years.

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"As many as 55 to 60 new employees in addition to the 115 or so we have here now," said CDR Chris Sloan of NOAA.

The airport also has plans for an undisclosed client, which Conrad says he plans to announce soon.