Could benefit regional manufacturing business

By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

BELGRADE – The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport now has a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.

Open since July 1, the new facility provides clearance for international aircraft and passengers visiting the region. The first international flight to use the service came from Calgary, said airport director Brian Sprenger. All flights are private at this time.

The facility has been in the works for about a decade, Sprenger said, and it finally came to fruition when the Yellowstone Club and Signature Flight Support committed financial support about two years ago.

The Gallatin Airport Authority remodeled part of its old terminal building to build the 2,300 square foot facility, something airport board member Kevin Kelleher said initially caused trepidation among the board because of the expense.

“But knowing what I know about the southern part of Gallatin County—West Yellowstone, Big Sky, the clubs—it made perfect sense,” said Kelleher, who is also a pilot and was a longtime Big Sky resident. “It’s a service for general aviation that will benefit our entire business community.”

By this, he meant it will save local and regional charter companies and private pilots money, drawing them here, and also benefit the airport.

“We employ that [customs agent] here, the fuel is bought here, the tie-down time is here, the hanger time is here,” Kelleher said. He admits it will “take time to get up to speed with customs and the number of aircraft that we actually clear.”

Great Falls, Helena and Kalispell have customs agencies; however, no other airports in the state have international flights. Having the customs office at Gallatin Field does open the door for that possibility.

“There are a lot of airports in the country, and very few have international airline service,” Sprenger said. “That’s because it takes a lot of people to fill up an airplane. You need to have a market that can support that on a regular basis.”

The office will also be a boon to regional business, said Sprenger, who’s also Board Chair at the Bozeman Chamber of Commerce.

“What this does for business is twofold. Certainly, it helps on tourism business, and people going to places in particular like the Yellowstone Club. It’s inviting for people who live overseas to be able to come here directly, and it means we compete against places like Vail, Colo… On the other side, it opens the door for really manufacturing in the area, and international trade.”

The latter point will be slower to develop, says to Daryl W. Schliem, President and CEO of the Bozeman Chamber of Commerce.
Schliem explained that having a customs agency could ultimately allow what’s called a triple freeport zone, in which businesses could import raw parts or goods, use them in manufacturing, and them export them as a product in a certain time period without having to pay tariffs on the imported goods.
A proposed manufacturing business park at Mandeville Farms, the city property at the north end of 7th and 19th, could be a logistics hub for these sorts of operations, Schliem said.
Stuart Leidner, Executive Director of the Prospera Business Network, is an economic analyst in Bozeman.
“It opens up some potential new doors for working with a manufacturing company that can utilize and has that type of capacity need,” Leidner said. “It begins to set the stage for [how] we can continue to grow in this region.”

Additionally, the facility allows hunters to register weapons locally, eliminating the need to travel to Helena or Great Falls prior to flying out of Bozeman for hunting trips. Customs and Border Protection staff the agency from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Thursday through Monday.