Wednesday, October 25, 2017

San Francisco-Stockton Regional Airport? Right Idea, But Wrong Name

There has been some rough press and a lot of making fun of the Stockton Metropolitan Airport's proposal to change it's name to the San Francisco Stockton Regional Airport.

I have written previously about the benefits of a broader regional vision for the Stockton airport that would include a renaming, but never suggested San Francisco-Stockton.  Given the backlash, I doubt the County will go forward with this name change, but the attention it has received could be used positively for the County to think about the airport's future and how it fits within a broader economic development strategy.

Airports are highly visible and valuable regional infrastructure, and thus are a great opportunity to link regional collaboration and regional branding.  There are two levels of regionalism that should be considered here.  At CBPR, we have written extensively about the need for North San Joaquin Valley counties (San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Merced) to work together more to become a cohesive sub-region of the Northern California Megaregion.  We have identified 3 key areas to focus these efforts: 1) marketing/branding, 2) infrastructure planning/development, 3) workforce development and education.  This airport question touches the first two.

If I were to attach a second name to the Stockton airport, it would be the Stockton-Modesto airport.  That idea is not popular with those in Modesto who still hold out hope for reestablishing passenger service at their small runway airport, but I think people in Modesto will ultimately vote with their feet as Stockton airport grows.  Modesto should collaborate and help facilitate that growth as their citizens would benefit greatly from a decent regional airport within an easy 30 minute drive, and Stockton provides the best opportunity as it has better current infrastructure (much larger runway, easy freeway access, larger local population base, and existing passenger service). 

However, I think the best idea is to go with a name that positions it within the Northern California mega-region without upsetting any other specific cities, whether they are San Francisco or Modesto.  If done right, it could help rebrand not just the airport, but the region itself.

For example, why not "Northern California Gateway" airport? 

A real marketing professional would probably come up with something better, but the idea is brand as part of Northern California, not the Central Valley, Stockton (or even Modesto).  Rather than quickly adopt or reject this San Francisco-Stockton proposal, I suggest the County use the idea of renaming the airport as an opportunity to convene a broader discussion about regional identity, branding and collaboration.  At the end of the process, they would hopefully get broad buy-in around a new name for the airport, and perhaps a start towards broader initiatives to create a more positive regional brand. 

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