MENOMINEE - Good news seems to be contagious at Twin County Airport, and it is coming from many different directions at the same time.

As Enstrom Helicopter Corp. moves toward completion of its expansion project on airport property, other businesses and education partners are exploring possible future connections. Traffic is up, and so are fuel sales.

Nancy Douglas, executive director of the Menominee Economic Development Corp., told commissioners Tuesday that three entities visited the airport in early November, two of which are colleges talking about future credit programs they could provide in combination with a flight school operation.

But at the heart of all visits, which have been orchestrated through the Explorer Solutions economic development study, is Enstrom, Douglas said.

"In all of this, Enstrom is a partner," she said, "and will have a part (in what is brought to the area). I feel real positive on where things are going."

Christian Perriault, head of Explorer Solutions, "is doing a yeoman's job with this second group," Douglas said of the interested businesses and schools that are coming in to look at locating operations in the Menominee/Marinette area.

The study, which is nearing completion of the second and most-expensive second phase, has brought together interested partners in businesses, industry and the community to identify the area's strengths and resources. Then, a second group worked with Explorer Solutions to narrow the focus of what is needed and would be a good fit at the airport.

Those areas include aeronautic maintenance support and pilot training, both of which could bring Twin County Airport into position as a full-service airport, Douglas said.

TCA has much to offer, with its long runway and quick access to unpopulated areas, both of which are important in flight training.

The last groups have come in from Pennsylvania, St. Louis and Colorado, she said. "These aren't local people - if we didn't have Christian Perriault, they wouldn't know we are here."

Airport Board Chairman Jason Lauzer said that people who visit from outside the area are often surprised at the number of flying days available in Menominee, as they are comparable to those in Florida and exceed what is available in more-Northern reaches of the Upper Peninsula.

"It presents itself well," Douglas said of the airport and the area. "And I can't say enough good things about what great hosts Enstrom are."

Lauzer said that Perriault told him Phase II of the study should be done by December of this year, opening to door to the final contract for Phase III. Lauzer is sending that contract to Menominee County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Hass for review.

While Enstrom's multi-million dollar expansion is a huge part of the airport's current growth, the overall economic growth in the area is part of the lure to future investment, Lauzer said. Key to future growth is the planned refurbishing of the airport's 5,400-feet runway, something the commission must justify with the Federal Aviation Administration and Michigan Department of Transportation Bureau of Aeronautics.

As those agencies look where they can eliminate longer runways in Michigan, such as the one in Menominee, and the rest of the country, TCAC must continue to campaign for not only keeping it, but going ahead with the planned work, Lauzer said.

To that end, the commission is gathering information about the efforts with Explorer Solutions to bring in new businesses, and the cost already spent in compiling the study. Lauzer said information explaining these efforts, written by Perriault and Douglas, as well as a user study the commission recently completed, will all be presented to the FAA/MDOT panel.

That group already received a perfunctory report from the airport's engineering firm, URS, saying the runway should be shortened, which frustrated the commission. Lauzer said the firm did not take into account what is being done to increase usage, and he has already talked to MDOT about that.

He said he wanted the FAA and MDOT to see that more than $100,000 has already been spent to determine what businesses would fit into TCAC, and to see what the airport will look like in three years.

"Nancy is putting together a write-up on what is going on (elsewhere) in the community," he said of Douglas' efforts in other economic development projects.

"This is one of the strongest economies we've had in a while," Douglas said.

Lauzer said that the commission will do everything it can to fight shortening of the runway, which it sees as essential to the airport's future growth.