As the recession destroyed businesses and jobs, one nook of the East Valley took off unlike any other place: Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.
The airport's economic activity soared 121 percent in a two-year period that began in the 2008 fiscal year, and airport passenger spending rose more than 80 percent.
And in just the last year, 259 new jobs were created, according to a study the airport commissioned.
Lynn Kusy expected to see impressive numbers, as he has witnessed the growth firsthand as the airport's executive director. But even he was caught off guard with the pace.
"The employment numbers really were better than I expected," Kusy said.
The employers at the airport count 1,145 workers, and their growing numbers are a stark contrast to the larger jobs scene. The Valley shed about 8 percent of its jobs during the same time, said research professor Lee McPheters, who conducted the study at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business.
The study shows Gateway was perhaps the largest exception to Arizona's otherwise gloomy economy in recent years, he said.
"Over the period 2008-2010 we had a serious recession and three consecutive years of job losses in Arizona, affecting all industries in the state," McPheters said via e-mail. "There may be isolated examples of growth in the other activities but I am not aware of them."
The study found the airport generated $685 million in economic activity last year and supports more than 4,000 jobs in the region. The booming passenger traffic on Allegiant Airlines generated $68 million in spending and created 1,000 jobs, McPheters said.
The airport commissioned the study to help attract more businesses.
"It gives us the ability to go to another customer and say look, it's not just the airport authority saying this. It's ASU, the Carey School of Business, and it gives a great credibility when we go to somebody and have that statistical data in our briefcase," Kusy said.
Kusy said he doesn't expect the airport could top or even match that kind of growth in another two-year period. One high priority for Gateway is luring at least one more passenger airline. Officials believe there's plenty of demand, as Allegiant is carrying more than 800,000 passengers a year despite starting its service there in October 2008.
That rapid success wasn't enough to attract other airlines because of larger economic woes.
"The airlines have been reluctant to talk to us for the last two or three years because the economy has been so slow," Kusy said. "But in the last six months, we have seen some interest. We're at least able to talk to the airlines now."