Envisioning an airport for Monett

Friday, November 16, 2012

To get a sense of what the Monett Airport means in this community, you have to take into account a comment from Chris Fuldner.

Fuldner, the retired president and chief executive officer of EFCO Corporation, before EFCO became a Pella company, said EFCO was not able to compete in the New York marketplace until jet service was added in 1994.

"Developers wanted to fly out here, take a look at the plant, conduct business and be back in New York by the end of the day," Fuldner said.

While one highly visible New York developer would not fly in EFCO's jet, many other top notch developers did, and liked what they saw. Fuldner said EFCO broke into the New York market in a big way and had a steady stream of traffic back and forth to the Big Apple after that.

At the same time, Jack Henry and Associates was establishing a shuttle service back and forth between Monett and Dallas. Jack Henry knew early on that the key to making his rural Monett company thrive on a national marketplace was to get his people and their services into the middle of the banking industry. To do that with speed and consistency might flying.

All this was happening 15 years ago. The lines of communication and the marketplace connections have only solidified since then.

Every step of the way, pushing for a better airport was Jack Fox.

We don't want to forget Rex Lane, the first city council member who believed in the airport. Lane did his job for the Monett community spectacularly and unglamorously, keeping the airport grant applications in the pipeline, continually pushing to upgrade the Monett facility.

Historically, the push came at the right time. There are many small airports around Monett, and 20 years ago they all pretty much looked alike. But it was the Monett Airport that made the leaps, where Monett's industry led the way. And it was Jack Fox, again and again, prodding, encouraging, presenting a picture of what Monett might have.

During Jack Fox Day at the airport on Sunday, Dr. Mark Costley said that 9,000 people a year go to work through the Monett Airport. That's more people than who live in Monett.

The potential for turning an air strip into a key gear in Monett's industrial machine was not widely understood 20 years ago. Much like downtown, a critical mass of resources placed together produces a powerful magnet. Until all the parts are in play, the machine wasn't that obvious.

At this late date, the airport has become a marvel. Becoming a regional airport secures its status. No other small air strip nearby will steal away all the business. It wasn't always popular to pump money into Monett's airport, but doing it at a key point in time paid off.

Nor has the investment been solely made by the city. Jack Henry and Associates paid for $350,000 in runway lights to make using the airport safer. The private investment in buildings and planes have progressively amplified what Monett has to offer.

Today Monett has an airport, not just a runway. All the behind the scenes conversations where Jack Fox tried to get others to catch the dream have paid off. It was good for the city to recognize Fox for his efforts last Sunday. Naming the grounds Fox Field will offer a reminder that out of little can come much, including something that serves the community for decades to come.