Two big-name movers and shakers in Winston-Salem – including the mayor – have been named to the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority (PTAA), and airport officials hope that the men’s strong business connections can help bring more passengers from Forsyth County to the Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTIA).

Currently, business travelers and residents from Forsyth County often choose Charlotte Douglas International Airport for their travel. Greensboro residents also frequently choose to travel in and out of Charlotte’s airport over PTIA, but with Winston-Salem’s proximity to Charlotte, the “seepage problem” is even greater there. Now some PTIA supporters are looking to the two newest Airport Authority appointees to help change that.

The two new members are Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines, who’s also the president of the Winston-Salem Alliance, an economic development group, and Graham Bennett, the president of Quality Oil Company. Bennett, like Joines, has strong ties to the business community and leadership groups in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.

Positions on the PTAA seven-member board are highly sought after because that board has a great deal of say over airport development, operations and projects. The PTAA controls the flow of the large amount of federal dollars and other funding that comes to the airport and its endeavors.

The importance of a seat on the PTAA has grown in recent years as the economic development community has increasingly bet on PTIA – and the surrounding land owned by the airport – to be a central driver of future economic growth in this area. In early June, the airport announced completion of the “taxiway bridge” over I-73 that connects the airport to the roughly 800-acre site now being prepared for business. Airport officials and local leaders are betting that the newly developed land will attract a lot of aviation-based businesses.

When Joines was named to the Airport Authority board by the Winston-Salem City Council, some people did a double take because it’s rare for appointments to the Airport Authority to be elected officials, and even rarer for that person to be a mayor. In fact, no one can remember a mayor ever serving on the board. Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan served on the Airport Authority prior to being elected mayor.

And Joines, in particular, is a major mover and shaker in Winston-Salem. He isn’t the only mayor Winston-Salem has ever had but he is the only one the city has had in a very long time. Joines was elected Winston-Salem mayor in 2001 and, since then, he’s been reelected four times. That’s made him the longest serving mayor in the city’s history. The Winston-Salem Journal named Joines one of the 50 individuals who had helped shape Winston-Salem in the last century.

Joines, who received his Bachelor of Science degree in political science from Appalachian State University and his Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Georgia, has led programs to battle the problems of chronic homelessness and childhood obesity, but he’s best known for his emphasis on job creation and economic growth, which is his full-time job as president of the Winston-Salem Alliance.

Joines has said that he wants Winston-Salem to be one of the top 50 metro areas in the US by 2020, and the city’s website states, “During Mayor Joines’ first term, over 4,000 jobs were created through recruitment of new companies. He continued to emphasize job development, and more than 40 companies have relocated or expanded in Winston-Salem, creating an additional 10,000 new jobs.”

Joines said this week that he’s looking forward to his term on the Airport Authority and said PTIA’s importance to this region is unquestionable. The mayor said it is an exciting time to come on to the Airport Authority, with the new taxiway and a giant new megasite getting ready for business.

“PTI is such a major resource, and we need to support it,” Joines said.

Joines said there’s already a strong presence of aviation related industry in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County and he said projects at the airport could bring in much more business to the entire area.

Joines added that it’s a mistake to think all the jobs created will be aviation related. He said that having a strong thriving airport nearby can be a big benefit for many types of companies and he added it’s good for “jobs generally.”

It’s Joines’ strong and deep ties to the business community that airport officials see as a big benefit of him serving on the Airport Authority.

PTIA officials say they think that having such a high-profile leader from Forsyth County with many ties to the business community there can really help stem the loss of passengers to the Charlotte airport. That airport has more flights and often better prices than PTIA; however, it’s a longer haul and it’s much more trouble to get in and out of due to that airports size, complexity and traffic. PTIA officials point out that PTIA is closer, more convenient, less congested, and passengers are likely to see much shorter lines at ticket counters and security checkpoints.

Koury Corporation President Steve Showfety, the chairman of the PTAA board, said the fact that Joines has played such a major leadership role in the Winston-Salem Alliance could be beneficial to PTIA. Showfety said that those close ties may help that business community become loyalists to PTIA.

He also said PTIA recently got new flights to Chicago, and the thing that will keep those flights open and bring more flights will be area residents consistently filling those seats.

Showfety said it’s somewhat unusual for a sitting mayor to serve on the authority.

According to Showfety, Forsyth County has been more inclined over the years to appoint an elected official than Guilford County. For instance, Forsyth County Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt served on the authority.

Former Guilford County Commissioner Linda Shaw, who serves on the board, was named to the Airport Authority, but only after she was no longer a Guilford County commissioner.

Bennett is also expected to help bring in passenger traffic from the Winston-Salem area. The company he heads up, Quality Oil, started in 1929 as a distributor for the then little known Shell Oil Company. Over the years the company has expanded into convenience stores and hotels, with a presence across the southeastern US.

One goal that’s proved a real challenge for PTIA in recent decades is adding airlines and more flights. Lower cost airlines, for instance, have favored Charlotte and Raleigh over the Greensboro/High Point area airport. A lot of the difficulty of adding airlines and flights at PTIA is due to industry consolidation and streamlining. Now the airport is attempting become even more of a driver of business recruitment and economic development.

PTIA Executive Director Kevin Baker said PTIA has several major projects on the horizon. He said efforts to attract new airlines to the airport had not met with success but he added that cargo transports in and out of PTIA had been increasing quite a bit.

“I sometimes look at cargo as the lifeblood of the economy,” Baker said, attributing the growth in part to the recovery in recent years. “My sense is that, with the overall improving of the economy, the cargo numbers are increasing steadily.”

Baker said he is looking forward to working with the two new members.

The Airport Authority consists of seven members: two must be High Point residents – with one of those appointed by the High Point City Council and the other appointed by the Guilford County Board of Commissioners; two Greensboro residents, with one of those slots filled by the Greensboro City Council and the other by the Guilford County commissioners. Another member must be from “Guilford County at large” and he or she is also appointed by the commissioners. One member, appointed by the Winston Salem City Council, must live in Winston-Salem. The other member is from Forsyth County at large, appointed by the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners.

Authority members serve staggered three-year terms.

The Airport Authority is in many ways a local government unto itself, with a lot of the same rights and powers given to counties and municipalities by the State of North Carolina. For instance, the Airport Authority has the ability to take on debt, make rules and regulations, and it can buy and sell land within its jurisdictional boundaries, as well as enter into contracts with airlines and vendors. And, like other local governments, PTIA doesn’t pay property taxes on its land or buildings.

The board, which was originally called the “Greensboro-High Point Airport Authority,” was created by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1942 to own and operate the airport. The board was re-named the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority in 1987.

In 1985, the membership expanded from five to seven, with the two new seats – the two now being filled by Joines and Bennett – being appointed by the Winston-Salem City Council and the Forsyth County commissioners.