Funding Benson Airport Fuel Farm

Benson Municipal Airport Opens Fueling Facility Funded by AzGT Rural Development Loans

Governor’s office praises project – “It’s a game changer for rural economic development”

 

BENSON – As in any endeavor where dollars are at stake, competition in the field of economic development is fierce.

Thanks to a rural loan program administered by Arizona G&T Cooperatives, the city of Benson just became a lot more competitive in the field of general and light commercial aviation.

Starting next week, private and light-commercial plane pilots will be able to land at the Benson municipal airport and taxi up to a state-of-the-art aviation fueling facility and fuel their aircraft, regardless of the time of day – or night.

That may not sound like a big deal, but for a rural, municipal airport, it’s a game-changer.

It’s important enough to the regional economy for Governor Doug Ducey to send a representative to take note of the facility during a dedication ceremony held June 21.

“Economic development is important across the entire state but we’re especially proud when we see it in southern Arizona, especially in the rural communities, with such a big economic driver for the entire region,” said Juan Ciscomani, Ducey’s senior advisor for regional and international affairs.

The fuel farm is automated and will provide two types of aviation fuel at any time, day or night. It is expected to attract increased air traffic and aviation-related business and industry to the airport and will produce revenue through fuel sales.

AzGT administers the US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Economic Development Loans & Grants (REDL&G) program, which provides grants from which AzGT can provide long-term, low-interest loans designed specifically to promote rural economic development.

In this case, it was the only way the city of Benson could fund the project.

“Without that I don’t think we would have been able to pursue this project; it gave us the opportunity to fund it at a very low interest rate, and a portion of it at a zero interest rate, and I don’t think the council could have even considered it with all the projects we have, without that,” said Vicki Vivian, Benson city manager.

“Long term, I think you’re going to have more people visiting Benson, as we’re getting ourselves on the map and this is a very important component, I’ve been talking to pilots out of the Phoenix area and they can’t wait to use this facility and explore the area,” Vivian said.

Before construction of the “fuel farm,” as it’s known in the aviation industry, pilots had to rely on a fuel truck that was only available at certain times – and even then, not totally reliable. Aviation-related business – and businesses – were literally flying right by because of the lack of a reliable fuel source.

Two years ago, realizing the city was losing out on a potentially huge source of revenue, the Benson city council voted to apply to AzGT for two REDL&G loans totaling $360,000. It took a year to put the loans together, and the COVID pandemic delayed the project by almost a year, hitting just before the city sought bids on the project – but on June 21 the city hosted more than 50 local, county, state and federal officials to celebrate the opening of the fuel farm.

More than 50 local, county, state and USDA federal officials attended the dedication of the fueling facility.

Joe Konrad, Benson City Mayor, said “it’s been a long time coming.

“Benson is a small rural community and commerce isn’t exactly what we’re made of, so any time we can get additional commerce and revenue into the city it’s important, so that’s why it’s important to grow this airport,” said Konrad, who is also a AzGT machinist mechanic at the Apache Generating Station.

“I believe there will be a ripple effect; any time we see an uptick in retail sales, hotel and motel business, visitors to our golf course, and things like that, also development – along with airport traffic comes access to development,” Konrad said.

“And there is a lot of potential in the acreage on the airport site that’s available for aviation related industry, so we’re looking forward to entertaining that and we’re hoping we can draw that here to Benson with the expansion of the airport,” Konrad said.

Jeff Hays, USDA acting state director for rural development, said AzGT has made the REDL&G program “work for rural Arizona.

“These projects aren’t big dollars but partnering with the co-op we’re able to roll those in and make them the best projects; they keep rippling through the community by having those investments the banks wouldn’t necessarily touch,” Hays said.

“So it presents great opportunity, and what we like is these investments keep reproducing and creating benefits within the community,” said Hays.

“We’d love to see more participation in it; the idea is that we work with co-ops and utilities to actually see those investments so they can then become a local investor in the community by re-lending to small businesses and social enterprises to provide that niche financing people wouldn’t be able to get through conventional terms,” said Hays.

Juan Ciscomani, (l), Gov. Doug Ducey’s senior advisor for regional and international affairs, presents Benson Mayor Joe Konrad with a letter recognizing the importance of the fueling facility to the region’s rural economic development.

Clinton Kaasa, USDA business and cooperative development specialist, also called the program a success, pointing out that AzGT has developed and is administering loans for regional hospitals and the Southeast Arizona Economic Development Group.

“Arizona G&T Cooperatives has done excellent work with this program; you’ve got multiple loans out and my understanding is you guys have turned $2 million (in loans) approximately three times, so that’s $6 million worth of investment with these small rural communities in your service areas,” said Kaasa.

Gov. Ducey’s representative at the opening said the program helps “set an example for rural development.

“Examples like these are the ones that make us very proud of the progress we’re seeing, all across the state, but especially in the rural areas,” Ciscomani said.