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Friday, December 07, 2012 10:04 PM

Photo by Matt Bristow/The Ottawa Herald


Lee Metcalfe, executive director of the Johnson County Airport Commission, talks Friday during the First Friday Forum at Washburn Towers, 526 S. Main St., Ottawa.

Airports add value to local communities, speaker says

By BOBBY BURCH, Herald Staff Writer

An airport can be the runway for success communities like Ottawa need, Lee Metcalfe said Friday.

Speaking at the First Friday Forum, Metcalfe, executive director of the Johnson County Airport Commission, discussed the history of his airport and the state of the U.S. aircraft industry. The Johnson County operation is relatively unique, he told the forum crowd at Washburn Towers, Fifth and Main streets, Ottawa, because it also maintains a six-mile rail system that moved more than 2,700 cars in 2010.

“It’s very unusual for an airport to be in the railroad business,” Metcalfe said to the audience of more than 50 people. “There may be only one or two others in the country, and the only one I know of for sure is in Huntsville, Ala., and they’ve done exactly the same thing we have done and turned their rail into a very successful investment.”

A former combat pilot with the U.S. Marine Corps who achieved the rank of captain, Metcalfe also discussed the variety of benefits a local airport can provide a community. A local airport not only provides availability for personal travel and flight training, but also positive economic impact for the community, Metcalfe said. It is the same in Franklin County, he said, with the Ottawa Municipal Airport, 2178 Montana Road.

“You’ve got a great airport out there — I drove past it just a few weeks ago and saw your new runway,” Metcalfe said. “It does add value to the community and it’s not considered just an amenity, I think. It’s a necessity, I think.”

Before Metcalfe’s presentation, Tammy Ellis, a local real estate agent with Century 21 Lantis & Associates, shared with attendees a real estate market update in Ottawa. Currently, 155 homes are on the market in Ottawa, Ellis said, with an average listing price of about $129,000. The average Ottawa home stays on the market for about 208 days, she added. In addition, the number of Ottawa homes purchased in November has increased when compared to 2011, she said, noting that 15 homes were sold last month, and only 10 in November 2011.

The increase of homes purchased might slow down, however, as the holiday season typically produces fewer real estate buyers, she said.

“Historically, things slow down around the holidays, but you never know when the right buyer will come along,” Ellis said. “If we have a mild winter like last year, then about mid-January things pick right back up, but if we get really cold weather and snow, then things will slow down until the thaw. ... So hang in there and we will continue to work together to try to capture every potential buyer.”

Ellis then shared with the audience a number of statistics from CNNMoney magazine’s recent article mentioning Ottawa as a top locale for retirement.

“I’ve lived here my whole life, and the answers surprised me,” Ellis said.

Among the figures provided, Ellis shared that the median income of an Ottawa household is $60,187, and the median age of a typical Ottawan is 33.8. Also, 57 restaurants are within 15 miles of Ottawa, according to CNNMoney.

In October, CNNMoney ranked Ottawa among the 25 best places to retire in the U.S., with Ottawa listed sixth among best small towns for retirees in America.

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