The conclusion of this week will also mark the retirement of one of the industry’s great airport managers and one of its true gentlemen, Don Smithey.
Don runs the airport in Omaha, Nebraska, and has done so since 1989. During that time, traffic has doubled, and he has managed to attract and retain service from Southwest Airlines.
Doing that means that inflation adjusted prices out of Omaha are actually far lower than they were in 1989, a difficult feat for a mid-sized city like Omaha. Don has also invested heavily in improving the safety of the airport.
Don has also mentored a number of impressive airport professionals over the years including Brad Livingston, who now runs the airprot in Madison, Wisconsin and Steve Coufal, who will take over from Don next week.
When I was in state government, it was a truism that the companies we tried to recruit to come to our state wanted to know about two things: transportation and education. don’t know much about the education system in Omaha and in Nebraska, but, now that I know Don and the work he has done, it is no surprise to me that so many businesses have located in Omaha. Susie Buffett (yes, from THAT Buffett family) is on the airport board out there.
A number of years ago, I helped put on a conference in Omaha sponsored by ConAgra, a major agricultural and food company. The CEO of ConAgra was there, as was then-Nebraska Gov. Kay Orr – all for our little conference. But what I recall was the spirit and energy of the place. I didn’t know Don then, and that conference would have occurred early in his tenure. But given what I know now, it is clear that Omaha is the kind of place where the community works hard together to make it a better place, and that Don Smithey was right in the middle.
Don will retire to his place in Iowa, but has assured me that he will actively follow events and trends in our industry. I will miss his support and his active involvement and wish him all the best.