MAURICE, Iowa -- From the runway of the new Sioux County Regional Airport, one can see the water towers in both Sioux Center and Orange City. Leaders in both cities look toward the almost-completed airport and see something much bigger.
"It's a big deal for us," said Mark Gaul, Orange City's community development director. "I think it will help lead to growth and expansion for existing industries."
For years, companies in Orange City and Sioux Center have at times been limited by both cities' airports. The shorter runways can't always accommodate the increasingly larger jets that company executives use for travel or to fly in clients and vendors.
Those limits will soon be history. The new airport, boasting a 5,500-foot-long and 100-foot-wide runway, is slated to open in November near the intersection of U.S. Highway 75 and Iowa Highway 10 about a mile from Maurice and about halfway between Orange City and Sioux Center.
It's hoped that the airport's added convenience for existing companies will keep them here so they can expand and create jobs. The larger airport will also play an important role in the attempts to attract new businesses to the area.
"I think it's a pretty significant impact regionally," said Dennis Dokter, assistant Sioux Center city manager/community development director. "It allows businesses and industries to grow and operate, but we're also getting some looks from new industries."
More than 20 years ago, local leaders foresaw this time, when a new airport could lead to greater opportunities.
Orange City and Sioux Center, both home to companies that have a nationwide reach, are served by airports with no room to expand and runways that are becoming too short and narrow to handle larger aircraft. Sioux Center's runway is 3,800 feet long and 50 feet wide. The runway in Orange City is 4,250 feet long and 60 feet wide.
Sioux County Regional Airport Agency Board chairman Harold Schiebout said he knows of one company that won't use either airport because they're too small for its corporate jets. Some companies must keep their planes at airports outside of Sioux County. The airport limitations have meant delays for business executives who can't fly out or must drive to larger airports in Sioux City or Sioux Falls to pick up clients and vendors.
That soon won't happen as often, Schiebout said.
"Those airports have served our communities well," he said. "There will be more activity going on here than at the individual airports."
Development directors hope the activity helps lead current businesses to flourish and expand. And when companies look for new locations, transportation is one of many factors they consider. A larger Sioux County airport that's able to house and accommodate larger aircraft and offer more services expands the field of potential businesses that Orange City or Sioux Center can recruit, Gaul said.
"We're able to submit where other times we wouldn't be able to before," Gaul said. "This just gives us one more tool in our toolbox."
That's what local leaders had in mind back in the late 1990s, when talks about replacing the Orange City and Sioux Center airports began, said Schiebout, who was Sioux Center's city manager at the time.
In 2004, representatives from both cities and the Sioux County Board of Supervisors formed the Sioux County Regional Airport Agency Board and began work on the long-range plan and cost-benefit study needed to gain approval and funding from state and federal agencies. The $31.8 million project received a combined $7 million from Orange City, Sioux Center and Sioux County, federal funding of close to $23 million, $1.2 million from the Iowa Department of Transportation and $700,000 from private sources.
Once all that work was done and funding was committed, construction began in 2015 at a 493-acre site that was previously farmland. Schiebout, who's now retired from his city job, said it's rewarding to see a project so many have worked on for so long nearing completion.
"It's exciting to me to work with that goal in mind to enhance our communities and enhance our future to provide high-quality jobs," he said.
The new airport has room to house 35 planes, more than the two current airports combined, Schiebout said, and most hangar spaces at the new airport already are sold or leased. The terminal has offices, a conference room, training room and pilots' lounge. There will be a maintenance facility on site and two 12,000-gallon fuel tanks.
Schiebout said 15 employees may ultimately work at the airport, which is also expected to house a charter service and a crop spraying company. Other new businesses may spring up there, Schiebout said, adding more amenities to the area. Adding commercial flights is not part of the future plans.
Once the airport is open, Orange City and Sioux Center must decide what to do with their old airports.
Dokter said Sioux Center leaders currently have no specific plans for the city-owned airport site located outside of the city limits.
Gaul said the 80-acre site of Orange City's airport is likely to be redeveloped and the land added to an adjacent industrial park, creating more space for new businesses or expansion of existing ones.