One of Licking County's main assets for attracting economic development -- the Newark-Heath Airport -- may have been overlooked, according to officials from the Grow Licking County Community Investment Corp.

One of Licking County's main assets for attracting economic development -- the Newark-Heath Airport -- may have been overlooked, according to officials from the Grow Licking County Community Investment Corp.

CIC Chair Tim Bubb, a Licking County commissioner, said the group will appoint an airport development committee to study the Newark-Heath Airport and determine how it can be better used to enhance local business prospects.

"We're in the process of that right now," he said. "We have a list of about 10 people."

Bubb said Aug. 24 all the people on the list had not yet been contacted, so he wasn't ready to release the names, other than to say that half were CIC board members and the other half are community members who are directly involved with the operation of the airport or operate businesses that use it.

He said he plans to present the list to CIC board members during their next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 17 in Hebron.

"The idea is, we should find people from the community who use the airport," Licking County Economic Development Director Dan Evers said. "We need to make sure we maximize that resource. It could be the clincher in attracting development."

Evers said the CIC recently held a meeting at the airport, where its regional impact was discussed. Evers said Bubb suggested forming the committee to explore the topic further.

Bubb said the airport needs some work before it can handle the larger jets many business people use, including a longer runway.

"They tell me 5,000 feet is the magic number," he said.

Bubb said the current runway is roughly 4,700 feet, which is fine for smaller jets. However, larger planes need more room when taking off with a full load of fuel or during inclement weather.

"Our runway is a little landlocked and a little short," Bubb said.

Extending it will be a challenge because the airport is near the Heath business area and nearly abuts state Route 79 to the north and Irving Wick Road to the southwest, leaving little room for expansion.

Also, Bubb said, the airport's current taxiway is a little close to the runway. However, for the taxiway to be the proper distance from the runway, it would go directly through the existing terminal, which would need to be relocated.

Bubb said many business travelers prefer to land at small airports rather than Port Columbus, simply because there is less hassle. But obviously, he said, money needs to be raised for capital improvements, possibly through grants and other sources.

"That's where I think a CIC airport development committee could really help the (Newark-Heath Airport) board," he said.