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The little airport that could

It may look like just a landing strip and a collection of hangars, but the Ashland Regional Airport may just be Lawrence County's lifeline.

Worthington, Ky., has been the home of the ARA since the 1940s when it was moved from a location on 29th Street near the river, manager Don Jacobs said.

The airport has been instrumental to Ashland's growth, Jacobs said, such as offering the new Wal-Mart air transportation for its contractors.

"If the airport wasn't here, a lot of these companies, the first thing they look at is accessibility to an airport, because they don't want to pay ridiculous landing fees, and they don't want to pay ridiculous fuel costs," Jacobs said.

In addition to driving (or flying) a lot of dollars into Ashland, surprisingly, the ARA is also a selling point for Lawrence County, just a few miles away.

Business that might need to use jets to conduct business in the county may not be able to land at the Lawrence County Airpark in Chesapeake, according to Jacobs, and would probably either utilize his runway or the Tri-State Airport.

"Lawrence County doesn't sell jet fuel and their runway is relatively short," Jacobs said. "You can't get a jet in and out of there, and here, well, I've had Gulfstream 4 and 5 in here, which are pretty good sized jets."

When he's not working as a member of the Ironton City Council, Bill Nenni regularly flies out of the Ashland Regional Airport, as well as offering flight lessons there.

Though it may not be in the same state, Nenni said that the ARA has had a big impact in Ironton.

"Oh certainly, it's got a lot of effect (on Lawrence County)," Nenni said. "This is the closest airport for anybody in Ironton. Corporate airplanes of any size that are going to do business in Lawrence County are going to come here or they're going to go to Huntington."

When they were building an Ironton location, Long John Silver's used the ARA regularly, Nenni said. Other companies such as McSweeney's Mill and Mine in South Point and Ohio University also have touched down with Jacobs.

For corporations that need to use large aircraft, the Ironton area is actually more attractive thanks to the ARA, Nenni said. That attraction could become increasingly important as the Ironton Port Authority attempts to woo business to the region.

"Sure, especially in this part of the county, the western end of the county," Nenni said. "The eastern part of the county has access to the facilities that Huntington has, but in Ironton specifically, this is just a hop across the bridge for Ironton.

"So if Ironton's going to grow, and they're going to entice major corporations, this is what they're going to use to entice them."

It may seem like quite a load to have the future of two different cities on his shoulders, but Don Jacobs doesn't seem fazed in the least.

"You know, it's just a busy little airport," Jacobs said. "It doesn't seem to be, but it keeps you hoppin.'"