This month's Chamber Spotlight features the Central Coast Jet Center at the Santa Maria Airport, 1211 Citation Court.
Molly Schiff, director of member and community engagement for the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, talked with Jim Kunkle, president of CCJC and Chris Kunkle, vice president of operations for CCJC, about the history and future of the business and how the Santa Maria Valley has been a great place for growth.
Listen to the full interview online at santamariatimes.com, or watch a video spotlight of CCJC on the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce website.
While the sights and sounds of the airport might be noticeable to most people, Chris Kunkle pointed out that many people in the Santa Maria Valley might not truly understand the economic impact of the Jet Center. And they have been hard at work expanding that impact, both on other Santa Maria businesses and as a topflight aviation facility.
The Jet Center was recently named one of the top 10 emerging Fixed Base Operations (FBO) by Aerospace & Defense Review magazine. They have also hosted an educational seminar for 15 congresspeople and 60 congressional staff about the connection between firefighting and aviation. Plans are in the works for a return of the Central Coast Airfest, possibly in 2022.
"We have to look at all of the protocols and everything but I think, hopefully, 2022 will be the year that we bring it back, bring that excitement and some noise back to Santa Maria," Chris Kunkle said.
After Thunder over the Valley, the return of a major airshow to the Santa Maria Valley increased the local visibility of CCJC, but their everyday economic impact hasn't always been as noticeable.
In addition to providing housing options for private and corporate aircraft, CCJC also provides fueling and services for the airport, the United States Forest Service, Cal Fire and military contractors.
"Last week, we had an operation of the Air Force out of Nellis Air Force Base; it's a test squadron and they brought three Blackhawks and a C130. They had 90 people show up here for a week," Chris Kunkle said.
While large-scale operations from the Air Force or corporate partners have big periodic impact, and big events like the airshow draw crowds to the airport, the Kunkles both said that they take pride in the everyday economic impact that CCJC has in the community.
"With one airplane and a lead-in plane, there is a combination of 10 to 15 people," Chris Kunkle said about having fire teams based at CCJC. "Those people are eating, they are in the community, they are supporting local businesses whether it's buying necessities, or food, or just going and doing fun things here."
Even more important than the economic impact of the fire operation teams, the ability to quickly respond to local wildfires is a unique and potentially lifesaving benefit to the Central Coast.
"We are fortunate so far for the local community [fire season] has been sort of mild down here," said Jim Kunkle. "We still currently have an air tanker with us and they usually go off and go fight fires wherever and they come back at night.
"But, we just had a small fire in Santa Ynez two days ago and having this equipment available to do an initial attack on local fires is priceless."
And the Central Coast Jet Center looks forward to expanding operations. "We can go from as few as three or four [flights] a day on a real quiet day to if we are doing our corporate, military or firefighting, we can have a couple hundred operations a day," Jim Kunkle said.
And as Chris Kunkle pointed out, space to house aircraft is getting harder and harder to find in Southern California, Santa Barbara and even Camarillo.
As a result, more and more people might be making the flight to the Central Coast Jet Center, eating at a local restaurant, enjoying some nightlife and staying in a local hotel.
The Santa Maria Times has partnered with the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce to highlight local businesses in Santa Maria and in Orcutt that have built their business futures here.
In an effort to show the impact that these businesses have on lives and communities in the Santa Maria Valley, we publish two business profiles a month, and one spotlight video in which a digital ambassador from the Chamber sits down and talks with a local business about why they made the choice to open here.