Before departing for retirement, the architect of Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport’s last 10 years of growth has spent a week showing the ropes to the next man to take the reins.
Bob Whitmer, who officially retires Saturday, Dec. 1, has been prepping Rob Barnett, previous manager of Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport, who will take over the operations and the potential future of one the area’s most important economic development tools.
Barnett said he knew from experience that a community airport wasn’t just about sending and receiving aircraft.
“The airport is a welcome mat to this community,” Barnett said. “Those people coming in may be the decision-makers in a manufacturing facility looking to make another plant for their business. I can think of several occasions that economic development decisions were made based on impressions. You want to impress them when they get off that airplane.”
Owensboro’s airport is a rarity among Kentucky’s regional airports becaue of its ability to keep dedicated air service, but that also comes with its own challenges. Like most airports its size, the airport must be able to make attractive deals with airlines while finding ways to reduce its subsidy from the city and county.
From what he’s seen, Whitmer said Barnett is more than prepared to tackle those challenges.
“It’s been an easy week in the the sense that Rob is knowledgeable of airports,” Whitmer said. “Being an airport director and experienced in maintenance, he has a varied background. He brings a wealth of knowledge.”
Barnett has led several capital projects at the Warren County airport and attracted its first commercial airline since 1979. Before going to work there, Barnett was an expeditionary aircraft recovery specialist with the U.S. Marine Corps.
Whitmer has seen growth at the airport in his tenure there, but his path to aviation was less direct than Barnett’s.
Whitmer was asked fill in for a few months in 2009 as interim manager and was eventually hired to take over just as air service from Allegiant was beginning in Owensboro.
Whitmer began his career in public service with a five-year stint as a teacher and coach at both Owensboro and Daviess County high schools. He worked from 1981-85 at Green River Steel as a planner and went to work for the city as personnel assistant and safety director in 1985.
In 1988, he moved to David Hocker & Associates Inc. as director of human resources before returning to city government as assistant city manager in 1992. In 2003, Whitmer became city manager, serving in that post until early 2008.
Barnett said Whitmer has left him an impressive organization to lead, but there are still some objectives to tackle in the future.
“I’m going to be looking at every aspect of the place daily, but there are more important goals or prioritized goals as well,” Barnett said. “First and foremost, we have to look at maintaining economic development. There is also developing a manageable budget and not being a blip on the radar.”
Jacob Dick, 270-228-2837, [email protected],Twitter: @jdickjournalism