Friday, September 9, 2016

I wonder if all Modesto residents are really opposed to a regional airport?

Through the Center of Business and Policy Research, I have been involved in studies of the North San Joaquin Valley which have identified opportunities for regional cooperation to improve economic development.  One of the opportunities for regional cooperation is regional transportation infrastructure, such as regional efforts to improve air service - perhaps by combining resources through a regional airport - as well as regional efforts to improve rail transportation, transit and more.

Thus, this article from Jeff Jardine in the Modesto Bee,, a few weeks ago disapointed me.  It quotes a number of folks in the Modesto area who dislike the concept of a regional airport and shows how hard it will be to really get people in the North San Joaquin Valley to see the benefits of greater regional cooperation and identity.

The article rejects the idea of regional cooperation on an airport, and stokes unproductive regional rivalry by suggesting that people like me who suggest the concept of a regional airport are just trying to help Stockton to Modesto's detriment.  It ignores the impact of subsidizing an airport on the city of Modesto's budget, and whether such ventures are better handled at the County level or through multi-jurisdictional JPAs.  It defies location theory by suggesting locations in Merced or Modesto a few miles from highway 99 is a better location for a regional airport than adjacent to I-5 and 99 south of Stockton, arguing that it is more important to be far away from competitors than it is to be close and convenient for potential customers.

Honestly, I don't think explicit cooperation or support from the rest of the North San Joaquin Valley is necessary for the Stockton airport to develop into a regional service center.  If it stays on its current course of expanding service, I think consumers across the NSJV region will vote with their feet and wallets over time.

In the long-run, I think the regional concept around the airport could work not just because of economies of scale and efficiency, but it could also be valuable in trying to develop a name that doesn't include the words Stockton and Modesto and use it as the basis for a new regional brand with fewer negative associations to outsiders than San Joaquin Valley, Stockton, etc.. I am not a branding guy, but I know enough that a regional brand is most likely to stick if it is authentic and connected to an actual thing like an airport.  So, why not a regional airport in the NSJV that is not called Stockton-Modesto Regional but something like "NorCal Crossroads Airport" or "NorCal Gateway Airport"  or "Zinfandel Airport" or many much better ideas that real marketing and branding experts can come up with.  Now that is probably pushing an unpopular idea way too far, but it is a thought I have had.

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