Before there was an I-77 corridor, Akron-Canton Airport was the original regional partnership.

GREEN  Before there was an I-77 corridor tying together Canton and Akron, there was Akron-Canton Airport.

Born from World War II planning, the airport has served the community since 1946. In addition to connecting the region with the rest of the country and world, Akron-Canton Airport's property is where more than 1,000 people go to work each day.

Sitting on the border between Stark and Summit counties, the airport is the original regional partnership.

After government and military officials determined the area would be a good place to build a stop-over site for military planes, local officials worked together to develop a better airport. Akron had Fulton Airport providing commercial airline service, but the facility was in a cramped bowl with no room for growth. In Canton, off Mahoning Road NE, pilots used the aging and tiny McKinley Airport.

The location in Green offered room for growth, and officials from both counties formed an airport authority board to oversee Akron-Canton Airport.

"We've been a shared service ever since we started," said Rick McQueen, president and chief executive officer. "I think it has worked out pretty well."

Since the 1980s, the airport has kept up with changes within the industry. A series of projects have modernized the terminal, made the facility more convenient for travelers and lengthened runways to accommodate larger jets.

The 2,400-acres that surround the airport also have been put to use. Three industrial parks have been developed on the west and south sides of the airport, while property east of the airport also developed.

Business development

For several years now, McQueen has joked that Akron-Canton Airport is the only airport in the country with a chocolate factory. But that's not the only factory. While Harry London's Chocolates churns out candy in a building near the airport's entrance off Lauby Road, water pumps and other automotive parts are being made at the Airtex/ASC's facility on Massillon Road on the airport's west side.

Developing the buffer property around the airport into industrial parks — CAK International Business Park, Port Green and Port Jackson — has benefited the airport and the region, McQueen said.

"It gives us a consistent stream of revenue," he said, because companies lease the ground and buildings. Manufacturers, warehouses, trucking facilities and service businesses fill buildings around the airport's borders. Those operations also provide good-paying jobs, which means tax revenue for the community.

Land remains for future growth. FedEx Ground is planning to develop 31 acres in Port Green — on the west side and north of CAK International Business Park — for a truck transfer facility.

The property is available to attract new businesses to the area, and also helps to retain existing companies. Regional development groups actively work with companies, McQueen said. "If you're not actively working with folks, you face the risk of losing them."

The exits off I-77 near the airport, unlike other exits along the highway, still have stretches of land available for development, McQueen said. In recent years, hotels have developed nearby and office buildings have been constructed.

World access

Air service is the facility's primary mission, McQueen said.

That extends from commercial flights to private airplanes. Timken Co., Goodyear Tire & Rubber and other corporations have facilities at the airport. Freight services have called the facility home.

Projects to modernize the airport have been geared toward commercial and non-commercial air service.

The airport is close to launching the final project in a 10-year plan called CAK 2018. Since 2008, the project has seen the airport invest more than $118 million toward capital improvements. The projects have included extending a runway, improving the entrance road and parking lots, new facilities for rescue and fire fighting equipment, and numerous upgrades in the terminal.

The final project will be construction of new gates to replace cramped space built when the terminal opened in the early 1960s. The gates will be elevated and equipped with loading bridges travelers can use instead of having to walk on the tarmac. The new gates will extend south of the terminal and be attached to elevated gates built several years ago. The project, estimated to cost about $33 million, will include other improvements and amenities.

Changes will make the facility more convenient for travelers, McQueen said. "It will make it more the style our customers have gotten used to," he said.

Work should start later this year and will take 14 to 18 months to complete. The plan is to have the project finished before the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in 2020, McQueen said.

Once finished, the airport will have nine gates available for commercial flights. One of those gates likely will remain open for a while, leaving the airport ready for additional service. Several factors, including airline consolidation, have led to a drop in passengers using the airport. McQueen said the airport wants to be prepared for the time when that trend reverses.

Reach Edd at 330-580-8484 or edd.pritchard@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @epritchardREP