Non-stop JetBlue flights from Reno-New York City bring 'instant credibility,' economic boost

Economic Indicators Associated Press

JetBlue Airways' plans for the first, daily non-stop flights linking Reno and New York City have local business and tourism officials excited about the potential impact on the region's broader economy.

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New opportunities range from filling hotel rooms and luring new business, to bolstering the area's image based on the sheer prestige of having "New York" and "nonstop" in the same sentence, officials say.

"Talk about instant credibility," said Chris Baum, CEO of the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority.

Last week's announcement drew more than 100 business leaders and others to Reno-Tahoe International Airport, where JetBlue Airbus A320s will begin daily nonstop flights to and from JFK International on May 28 — some as cheap as $450 roundtrip.

"This is more significant than just having a new flight," said John Farahi, CEO of Monarch Casino & Resort Inc., which operates the 824-room Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in south Reno.

"JetBlue opens up the whole East Coast. The dam has been broken. That market has opened for the first time ever," he told the Reno Gazette-Journal (http://tinyurl.com/krto24s).

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Elliott Parker, economics professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, said it helps bring attention to the region at a time of growing economic recovery with the likes of Tesla's $5 billion battery gigafactory, the just-announced $1 billion Switch data center, and continued shrinking unemployment and rising home prices.

"Having another company like JetBlue show they think our trend is up, not down. That is a big deal," Parker said. "It would also be a selling point to financial firms or others who need access to the New York market, as we can now say that moving here does not mean that it will be harder to get across the country."

Baum said air access to Reno long has been the biggest challenge the region has faced in winning coveted conventions and business meetings.

The lack of nonstop service to the East Coast in particular was cited as one reason Reno lost the mammoth Safari Club International convention, with more than $20 million in local economic impact, last year.

"Our sales people hear it every day," Baum said of lack of "connectivity," the industry term for getting someplace with minimal time and hassle.

"The West Coast? Not a problem. Midwest? Not too bad. But the East Coast has been problematic," he said. "For people in Boston, D.C., Atlanta, New York, it eats up an entire day getting here. Adding New York nonstop is both psychologically and logistically a very big deal for us."

For business travelers, there are few factors more important than reliability in reaching destinations, said Mike Kazmierski, CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.

"It's been a major concern with companies forever. Executives do not like smaller communities with limited access," Kazmierski said. "Reliability is what worries them. This (New York) gives them some comfort that they can get here.

Airport spokesman Brian Kulpin said they already are working to promote Reno-Tahoe on the other side of the country.

"We're talking with JetBlue about bringing the New York media to the region to introduce them to our gaming properties, our skiing," he said. "They're going to be introduced to a whole different part of the world."

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Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com