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National airport consulting firm lands in Mississippi

A national consulting firm of airport specialists is making its presence known in Mississippi.

Last October, Denver-based Airport Development Group (ADG) Inc., opened an office in Jackson to better serve its growing list of Southern clients.

“ADG has been in business 21 years next month, and during most of that time, our firm had been regional, primarily serving airports in Colorado and surrounding states,” said ADG’s Dana Harshorn, P.E., principal and electrical engineer. “Occasionally, when airport managers we’ve worked with moved to other locations, we’d follow them. That’s what led to our work in Mississippi.”

Around 1996, ADG received a call from an airport manager who had moved from Kansas to the Stennis International Airport in Bay St. Louis. He wasn’t getting the response from airlines that he was accustomed to and requested ADG’s assistance, said Mike Corkern, project manager of the Mississippi office.

“We’ve been working at the Stennis Airport ever since,” he said. “We enjoyed it so much, we focused on marketing to other airports in Mississippi. We wanted to be a part of the community.”

Also in the mid-1990s, ADG began handling projects at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The firm also focused its efforts further west, serving as project manager for the Wendover Airport in Utah, which involved collaborating with more than two dozen organizations. As a result, a dormant general aviation airport was transformed into the number two commercial airport in Utah, second only to Salt Lake International. The firm opened a satellite office there to monitor performance and to also service clients in Nevada.

“We’re one of a handful of airport-only specialty firms around the country,” explained ADG’s Jim Sirhall, principal and planning manager. “In Mississippi, there are a few multidisciplinary firms that handle airport infrastructure work, but the rules keep changing all the time, and the market needed a consulting firm with specialized expertise.”

Among ADG’s comprehensive services: capital improvement projects, planning, engineering, construction, operations, financial planning and budgets, business planning, marketing, airline negotiations, tenant relations and leases, environment issues, airport certification and land acquisition. The firm also handles issues related to industrial/cargo ports and FAA/state coordination.

“The main thing that’s affected our industry in the last several years is the significant increase in the budget for the federal funding program that’s been in place since 1947,” said Harshorn. “It has expanded significantly over the last few years, starting with the Air 21 bill, which was passed around 2000 and added a lot more dollars. The previous year’s budget had been about $1.9 billion. Starting in 2000, it jumped to almost $3 billion. This year, it will be about $3.5 billion. Congress finally realized that airports needed more money to keep up. Interestingly, post-9/11, smaller airports have been getting more attention because of additional security needs, and those are the ones we’d been focusing on all along.”

Approximately 90% of the firm’s portfolio involves work at existing airports. The balance represents new airports, such as the one built a few years ago on an Indian reservation.

“It’s like highways,” compared Hartshorn. “You don’t get new ones very often, but you have maintenance and upgrade needs. Airports are a smaller version of that.”

In Mississippi, ADG is reworking a taxiway to accommodate larger aircraft at the Stennis International Airport. The firm is also working on a project to completely rebuild the Copiah County Airport in Crystal Springs.

“We’re working on the John Bell Williams Airport at Hinds Community College, which is poised for a lot of growth,” added Corkern. “The terminal in Madison is in the initial stages of being revamped, and we’re working on a planning study for Greenwood. We’re also talking to a number of airlines about getting new service into airports.”

Sirhall said the firm’s “secret” to successfully branching out nationwide is “that we emphasize teaming.”
“Mississippi is a good example of teaming with other consultants,” he said. “We’re acting as a subcontractor in some incidences, and we employ subcontractors, such as local surveyors and geotechnical firms and civil engineering firms, to help us do things the Mississippi way. What works in Colorado isn’t necessarily the best engineering course of action in Mississippi.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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