Sunday, April 23, 2017
Airport Authority race a contrast in experience
BY MATT OLBERDING
The Lincoln (NE) Journal Star
The Lincoln Airport Authority is a low-profile elected office, but its five members do some pretty important work.
They oversee a budget that is larger than that of many counties in the state. They have the ability to levy property taxes -- though the board has declined to for three decades. And they are landlords to 1,000 acres of commercial development.
The three men vying for two open seats in the May 2 general election each brings unique talents and experiences to the job.
One is a veteran of elected office, serving nearly 40 years in local government. Another has nearly the same number of years managing airports but is a political newbie. The third candidate doesn't have political or airport experience but would bring some young blood to the board.
Richard Nuernberger, a Republican, is seeking his second term on the board. His opponents are Robert Selig, an independent who was appointed in January to fill an open seat, and Zachary James, a Democrat who is making his first run at elected office.
Nuernberger, who was elected to the board in 2011 after serving 32 years as County Treasurer, said he knows air service is the No. 1 issue for most people, but he said that when he first joined the board he was amazed at how much of the work at the airport is dedicated to developing, leasing and managing buildings in the LNK Enterprise Park industrial area.
"I don't think a lot of people know about it," he said.
Nuernberger said one of the things he's most proud of is the board's work to attract new tenants and help current tenants expand.
He specifically mentioned Duncan Aviation, which between 2012 and 2015 built two 40,000-square-foot maintenance hangars and added 95,000 square feet of office and shop space. Other industrial park tenants who have expanded during Nuernberger's term include Hexagon Lincoln, Sadoff Iron & Metal and the Nebraska State Patrol.
During Nuernberger's term on the board, passenger numbers have increased four years in a row, hitting a nine-year high in 2016. That's due in large part to Delta Air Lines' flight to Atlanta, which started in September 2014.
The airport staff and board members are working on trying to get flights to Texas, likely an American Airlines flight to Dallas, which Nuernberger said "would be great."
Selig, who retired last year after a career managing airports in Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Ohio, said he believes his experience is a valuable asset to the board when it comes to working with airlines to add service.
While acknowledging the elephant in the room -- that 70 percent of air passengers in the Lincoln market fly out of Omaha -- he said he sees that as an opportunity for the Lincoln Airport to attract more passengers.
He also touted his experience working in similar competitive situations.
"I'm not intimidated by Omaha at all, because I have dealt with Detroit and Minneapolis," Selig said.
Beyond commercial air service and the industrial park, responsibilities Selig said he believes airport staff does a good job of managing, he has ideas for how to utilize the airport more.
Selig said the length of Lincoln's runway makes it a prime candidate to become an air cargo hub, and if elected he plans to encourage the board to adopt an air cargo and logistics plan. He also threw out the idea of pursuing international flights, which may seem far-fetched, but it's something he successfully implemented at the airport in Lansing, Michigan.
Most of all, he said he wants to use his experience "to promote the continued growth and development of the community’s airport."
Zachary James, the third candidate in the race, said he would bring "out-of-the-box" thinking to the board.
Like the other candidates, he counts among his priorities improved air service and the continued success of the airport's industrial park. James said he wants to work to add an airline carrier to provide more convenient, frequent and affordable flights, as well as create more public-private partnerships to bring tenants to the LNK Enterprise Park.
He also said he wants to work to update the airport's strategic plan.
James said his decision to run for Airport Authority was not one made on a whim.
"I took a great deal of time exploring the needs of the Lincoln community before deciding to run for Lincoln Airport Authority," James said. "I talked with community members, business owners, city leaders and educators to determine how I could best serve my hometown.
"As a result of those conversations and my research, I was drawn to the role and responsibilities (of the board)."