LI MacArthur Airport and Tourism: Economic Generators for Long Island

It was a full-house at the March 22 event at Long Island MacArthur Airport, “Taking Business and Tourism to New Heights.”

It’s hard to beat tourism as a business booster.

Economic development professionals will always tell you that one of the best ways for any community to attract incoming dollars is through tourism.

Similar to the benefit enjoyed when customers outside your area purchase your exported products, a dollar spent by a visiting tourist represents the introduction of new, net wealth into your locality.

It’s a pure win, because it’s fresh, outside money coming in.

And the good news is that Long Island business and government leaders know and appreciate this fact. Moreover, they take concrete action to promote and support tourism as a means of enriching the Nassau and Suffolk economies.

To further sharpen our business community’s understanding of the symbiosis uniting tourism and business, HIA-LI hosted more than 200 members of the regional business community at a breakfast panel at Long Island MacArthur Airport on Friday, March 22. The event was called “Taking Business and Tourism to New Heights.”

The panel highlighted Long Island MacArthur Airport, which is owned and operated by  the Town of Islip, and Discover Long Island, the agency formally designated to promote Long Island as a destination for tourism, meetings, conventions, and sporting events.

Speakers included Kristen Jarnagin, President and CEO of Discover Long Island; Town of Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter; Airport Commissioner Shelley LaRose-Arken.

Ms. Jarnagin helped to crystallize the theme of the event with the following economic development proverb:

“If you build a place where people want to visit, you will build a place where people want to live,” she said. “And if you build a place where people want to live, you will build a place where people want to work. And if you build a place where people want to work, you will build a place where business will want to be. And if businesses want to be there, you will build a place where people will want to visit.”

Thanks to Discover Long Island data, attendees learned that travelers spent an eye-opening $5.9 billion on Long Island in 2017.

And on the fiscal side, tourism in Long Island generated $722 million in state and local taxes in 2017. And sales, property, and hotel bed taxes contributed to nearly $400 million in local taxes.

By fortifying Long Island’s tax base, the tourism industry enhances the region’s ability to attract and retain private companies.

As most readers know, MacArthur Airport is an indispensable hub of our area’s tourism sector. The airport sees more than 5,000 people fly in and out every day.

And under the leadership of Supervisor Carpenter, herself a former businesswoman, the 1,300-acre airport has systematically maintained strong ties to our area’s business community.

Airport Commissioner LaRose-Arken told attendees that MacArthur ranked as America’s fastest-growing, medium- to large-sized airport, as measured by domestic seats.

She also noted that both Southwest and American Airlines had recently responded to growing demand by introducing larger aircraft, and that Frontier Airlines had expanded its list of destinations reachable from the airport.

“We try to operate our airport like a business,” said the Commissioner. “And over the last four years, the airport has run a surplus.”

Underscoring our business community’s commitment to tourism, several private-sector players recently helped underwrite a Discover Long Island survey designed to help inform future strategies for the industry’s growth.

HIA-LI, National Grid, and the Manufacturing Consortium of Long Island – which also goes by the name of Ignite Long Island – joined forces with Long Island University and Long Island MacArthur Airport to sponsor the project.

As reported by Newsday, the Discover Long Island analysis found that when travelers are told about “the Island’s beaches and parks, museums, restaurants, and other attractions, the likelihood they will visit rose to 65 percent compared with 47 percent when they knew little about the region.”

To further bolster region-wide tourism, Discover Long Island in 2017 initiated its first-ever co-marketing partnership with New York City’s tourism agency, NYC & Co. The joint program positions Long Island as “a great addition to New York City trips” and as the city’s “beachfront backyard.”

During a question-and-answer session, Ms. Jarnagin urged event attendees to always remember to speak positively about Long island.

“Please think about the way you’re speaking about your home and where you live,” she said. “Because when you put something online, people see it all over the world. If everyone hears something negative, why would anyone want to come here?”

Supervisor Carpenter also urged business leaders to make their presence felt at public hearings and speak up in support of development initiatives “because the naysayers are always going to be there.”

We need to work collaboratively with institutions and government entities.  For example, HIA-LI had provided assistance to MacArthur Airport in assessing travel patterns and passenger needs when the air facility had been scoping out growth strategies.

We simply can’t underestimate the value of this airport and tourism in strengthening the economic foundation of Nassau and Suffolk counties.  The deeper the commitment we make to tourism, the more tourism delivers to our business community.