Business is on the move in Rutherford County, and the area's logistical advantages are driving that growth.
Distribution and warehousing firms have excellent highway access via I-24 and State Route 840, which run through the county, and I-40 and I-65 are both 10 minutes away. Area businesses are also served by Class I rail provider CSX, which operates a railroad cargo terminal in nearby Nashville, and by the Port of Nashville on the Cumberland River.
Two airports – Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport and Murfreesboro Municipal Airport – are major economic contributors to Rutherford County, and are primed to become even more so thanks to multimillion-dollar expansions planned at both sites.
“We are a busy airport with 90,000 operations a year, or about 250 on most days,” says John Black, executive director of the Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport Authority, which owns, operates and develops the airport. “We are the third-largest and third-busiest general aviation airport in Tennessee, located on more than 1,700 acres. Of that land, 450 acres are still undeveloped. A lot of airports don't have land to expand, but we certainly do.”
In 2014, the airport embarked on a $9.2 million expansion project that includes adding another tenant building development area to its existing 400-acre Airport Business Park. Plans are in the works to extend the park's utilities and access road and to construct a 25,000-square-foot hangar that will offer 13,000 square feet of office space facing the airfield.
“We are going after big corporate clients as tenants, specifically targeting aviation and aerospace companies for the new hangar,” Black says. “We also initiated an airfield project to rehabilitate our four taxiways, with a strict timetable for the taxiways to be completed before we staged the Great Tennessee Air Show with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels this summer.”
Black adds that the airport performs all maintenance on blimps used for TV broadcasts at stadium venues up and down the East Coast.
“One of our tenant clients is Van Wagner Airship Group out of Orlando, and they park their blimps in our large 93,000-square-foot hangar for maintenance,” he says. “Rutherford County residents might actually see occasional blimp activity over Middle Tennessee as the big airships arrive at Smyrna Airport, then head to their next destination.”
Cleared for Takeoff
About 54,000 operations a year take place at the Murfreesboro Municipal Airport, whose largest tenant is the Aerospace Department of Middle Tennessee State University. Known as one of the top schools in the nation for aviation training, the university leases several hangars and houses its aerospace program on site.
“MTSU refers to us as their airport campus – an extension of their main campus – and they have about 30 aircraft on our grounds,” says Chad Gehrke, manager of Murfreesboro Municipal Airport. “A lot of their faculty members are involved in research projects that fly them to all parts of the country, plus their smaller sports teams, such as golf and tennis, utilize our airport. In all, counting MTSU, along with corporate jets and military planes, we have about 140 aircraft here.”
Murfreesboro Municipal is also involved in expansion projects, specifically a $3.2 million initiative to extend its runway to the north, repave taxiways, upgrade taxiway lighting and relocate a road to help the airport with future hangar development. Plans are also under way to construct a new hangar that will include MTSU as its first tenant, allowing the university to consolidate all its aerospace labs and flight simulator systems under one roof.
“For overall takeoffs and landings, our airport can accommodate business-size aircraft similar to King Air 200s and 300s, and jets like Citations and Lears that mostly seat 6 to 8 people,” Gehrke says. “As Rutherford County continues to grow, business people fly into Murfreesboro Municipal all the time to check progress on their stores, restaurants, hotels and other projects.”