Repurposed Air Base Serves as Economic Driver for PHX East Valley

There’s an interesting story taking off out of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in the PHX East Valley – on the fringes of Greater Phoenix, one of the fastest growing regions in the U.S. The airport was formerly Williams Air Force Base, a training base where more than 27,000 pilots earned their wings. In the 1990s, Williams was among dozens of causalities as military bases around the U.S. were shuttered forever and now serve as vast, crumbling aviation graveyards.

Williams Air Base, however, faced a different fate. Local leaders granted 30 percent of the air field’s 4,000 acres to educational entities, Arizona State University and Maricopa County Community Colleges – two of the fastest growing higher-educational institutions in the U.S. The remaining land (some 3,000 acres) was forged into now what is known as Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. This hotbed is a mix of commercial aviation, private aviation business, manufacturing and a refueling station for transient military jets. In fact, today, the airport alone holds more than 2,000 jobs, is a host to more than 40 companies and has an economic impact of $1.3 billion annually. It’s a far cry from the fate of other once-robust military bases.

More than 4,000 students were enrolled in classes on Arizona State University’s Polytechnic Campus in 2014. The campus offers programs in interdisciplinary sciences, engineering, management, technology and education. Even some ASU Polytechnic students are training to be pilots.

The land now supports more jobs, a greater economic impact for the PHX East Valley and deeper community outreach than nearly any other re-purposed military base in the U.S. Commercial aviation has also soared at Gateway as the airport saw an increase in annual passengers in 2015. Interestingly, the airport’s managing entity, Gateway Airport Authority, includes a mix of nearby cities, government entities and Native American economic officials managing the property for continued best use scenarios. While communities nationally struggle to recover from closed air bases and others grapple with finalizing plans to redevelop the land, Gateway is a shining example of how to create an economic driver and vital community advocate out of a repurposed military base.

Learn more about the PHX-Mesa Gateway Airport here.