By exploring several opportunities and reading between the lines, Vinicio "Lenny" Llerena, the Victoria Regional Airport manager, saved the transportation center thousands of dollars in 2017.

As the end of the year approached, the airport was on course to have an estimated $150,000 deficit, but after some changes, the site was about $30,000 in the red. The airport also had about $70,000 worth of fuel at the end of 2017.

Llerena provided an update about the regional airport at the Victoria Economic Development Corporation's weekly partnership meeting.

Peter McNally, program director of the Victoria Business and Education Coalition said Llerena has streamlined the airport's management, which will bring a bright future for the site.

"(The airport is) an economic generator for the community - it's necessary to attract industry," McNally said. "If we're looking for future growth, we're going to need an airport so industries and businesses can assess whether this is an area they want to come to."

When Llerena started his new position as the manager of Victoria Regional Airport in March, he said it was a challenge. He saw old buildings and land not being used and evaluated what needed to happen so the airport would no longer be subsidized by the county.

Llerena cut some personnel, reworked leases and created a rent fee for aviation vessels using the airport, which has brought in more revenue.

"The people who don't need fuel, they pay the rent fee, and the people who don't want to pay the fee, they get some fuel," he said. "That increased the sales of fuel. We collected, in six to seven months, $15,000 to $16,000 in rent fees - a source of revenue that has never happened at the airport."

Llerena also decreased airplane hangar fees, which brought in more business.

The manager wasn't involved in the first Texas Mile that occurred at the airport in March, but he was in the second one in October. The airport lost $4,000 during the first event but had a net gain of $24,000 during the second, he said.

Airport officials have also signed new leases to use space at the site, Llerena said. For example, one terminal with a kitchen that hasn't been used for years is now used by a baker who sells gluten-free pastries to passengers.

"We have expanded little things like that, looking at what we can do with additional space that we had," he said. "Those things have created revenue."

During Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath, the airport was a hub for first responders and the military. The airport played a big part in Houston's recovery, Llerena said.

"A bunch of helicopters showed up out of the clouds. You couldn't see anything. The wind was like 50 mph," he said. "We got really busy. We never stopped for about seven days. We were out and about 24 hours of the day. That tells the level of importance an airport has during a natural disaster."

Llerena helped the airport obtain a $560,000 grant from the Texas Department of Transportation for repairs to the aircraft ramp. Airport officials will select an engineering company for those repairs, which are expected to begin this year.

Another project in 2018 is repairing the main runway, he said, which TxDot will also help fund.

"Were looking at this year to do a lot better - there are a lot of things that need to be done that have been overlooked over the years," Llerena said.

Texas Sky's contract will also end in November, and airport officials will take bids for a new service provider before March, Llerena said.

Randy Vivian, Victoria Chamber of Commerce president, said Llerena is a good leader and under his management, the airport will see industrial development.

"It's wonderful to see us moving in the right direction under his leadership," he said. "Over the next several years, we're going to see some great things coming out of the airport."

However, the airport needs to be supported by and connected to the community, Llerena said. When investors come to assess the Crossroads, the airport is the first aspect of Victoria they see.

"You want that first gateway into the community; it needs to be nice. That's what we're going to work for. We're all going to work toward that goal," he said to those attending the partnership meeting. "There's a lot of economic impact the airport puts into the city, into the community. I want you to remember that."

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Kathryn Cargo covers business and agriculture in the Crossroads. She enjoys reporting on industry trends and getting her shoes dirty out in the field.

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