SLO Aiport connects growing business scene to the world
San Luis Obispo’s airport being able to offer direct flights to Vegas is a huge bump for tourism, but it’s an even bigger boost for the business community across the county and another opportunity to show the world how much that business scene has changed over the years.
On June 15, Alaska Airlines announced it will begin daily nonstop flights from San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport to Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas starting on Dec. 15.
“This really is important for so many reasons,” Jim Dantona, CEO of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce, told the Business Times.
“You think of the airport and you think tourism but to me, it’s the business piece and the easier it is for people to be here or go somewhere else, that will help our businesses succeed.”
Back in 2018, SLO Airport added a direct flight to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, a move that has reshaped the area, Dantona said.
“The Dallas flight opened opportunities for our companies to participate in Dallas as a hub and with that area being a major hub for the whole south, it is huge,” he said.
For the longest time, SLO County’s startup scene revolved around mom-and-pop shops, restaurants, and things in that line of work.
But over the past decade, as more people begin to learn about San Luis Obispo and what it has to offer, we are seeing a more diverse business scene, Dantona said.
“We never had the big companies set up shop here like some of these other hub areas. We don’t have a Google or an Oracle. We had to create our own livelihood. But now, with our mom-and-pop shops, having them be the backbone of our economy, and now having the outside interest of investment and bringing those tech jobs and access to tech, that has really changed the outlook for our regional economy,” Dantona said.
“All that goes back to our ability to have SLO Airport connected all over the place.”
He added that SLO’s No.1 issue is workforce, given that it is such a small community.
“So the ability to engage somebody in remote work somewhere else if we can’t find them here and having a flight that allows them to visit and have them participate and be a part of the company, it’s huge,” Dantona said.
Contrary to popular belief, however, the airport itself can’t just add flights, according to Courtney Pene, the deputy director of planning & outreach at the SLO Airport.
It is actually the airlines themselves who go to the airport and they will begin offering a new route.
“We as an entity, SLO Airport and Visit SLO CAL, we go to air service conferences and we show demographics for our region, our economics and we talk to them about what we could bring to the airlines,” Pene said.
“But it’s the airlines who gather that information and then come to us and say they want to offer a new flight.”
Still, the timing couldn’t be better.
In a time when regional airports are struggling to even hold on to existing flights, SLO Airport is actually growing, Sally Buffalo Taylor, the communications director at Reach, told the Business Times.
According to the Regional Airline Association, of the 430 airports in the continental United States and Hawaii that offered commercial passenger service before the pandemic, 76% had fewer flights scheduled in 2022 than in 2019.
On the flip side, SLO Airport is actually expecting 2023 to be its busiest year.
“They are continuing to grow and we have seen businesses flourish and be able to take advantage of that market access,” Taylor said.
In 2018, SLO Airport published an economic impact report that found that each new flight added had a positive economic impact worth $6.2 million with each new seat on a flight being enough to add almost one new job and $30,600 in payroll.
“Anytime you open or improve access to a new market, you open business opportunities for companies in that area for potential expansions, partnerships, etc so having that opportunity for that SLO market is going to increase the economic competitiveness for the region as a whole,” Taylor said.
“That desire to have more flights and have direct flights from SLO is a shared priority between Reach and the airport and the airport really does a great job of looking for potential partners or new cities.”
The SLO Airport will also continue to grow, Pene said, with the entity currently working on a 20-year master plan forecast to account for the facility planning.
The community, and even Taylor, have expressed interest in one day hoping an airline could offer a direct flight to Chicago or Salt Lake City.
But for now, the airport will continue to focus on the flights it does offer.
“We know we will eventually need to expand out terminal spacing, we just don’t know about the timing yet,” Pene said.