BY D’ARCY PATRICK EGAN
Clay Finken’s big challenge as the new director of the the Erie-Ottawa International Airport in Port Clinton will be to keep it on track to continue its reputation as the “Little Airport That Could” as it brings air traffic and economic prosperity to the region.
“For a general operation airport, we’re one of the busiest in Ohio,” said Finken, 33, a native of Oak Harbor and a graduate of The Ohio State University with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies. “I’m following some big footsteps, taking over from retiring Stan Gebhardt, and it will be my job to continue to build and expand the biggest airport between Cleveland and Toledo.”
Finken said the Port Clinton Airport, and its crossing runways, which is also home to the heralded Liberty Aviation Museum, is busier than the Toledo Express.
“We’re working on our 10-year plan knowing we’re running out of hangar space and could use more room,” he said. “We have 76 airplanes based in Port Clinton, as well as a pair of jet aircraft managed by Griffing Flying Service. We’ve got some difficult decisions to make this year.”
Helping to smooth the expansion and improvements is the airport’s status as an international airport, its U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility with Homeland Security, and more than $18 million in federal grant money in the last decade and a half from Ohio’s federal legislators.
“Funding is still our biggest challenge, but we’ve been blessed by being ‘The Little Airport That Could,’” noted Finken. “Our challenge will be to maintain growth and continue to drive our economy.
While former Director Gebhardt was a seasoned pilot, Finken has aspirations of flight school once he’s settled in to the position. His immediate challenge is handling the nuts and bolts of operating the business, from asset management to understanding the big picture and what the future will bring.
Finken had started his own business consulting firm to help government agencies like Carroll Township make water supply contingency plans, and he worked as an EMT.
“i’m the type of guy who focuses on the nuts and bolts, taking a pile of complicated papers and boiling it all down in order to determine what we should be doing,” he said. “I crunch a lot of numbers, and that helps the board to make the right decisions.
“Right out of Ohio State, I was still searching, and learned a lot about the Port Cliinton area as a bartender for the Port Clinton Yacht Club,” said Finken, with a laugh. “My dad had owned the Beach Carte Tavern on Lake Erie before going back to school to become a registered trauma nurse.”
Finken and his partner, Adam, are now “Toussainters,” living near the Toussaint River in the Long Beach area of Oak Harbor.
Finken’s goal, he said, has been to find a challenging position that would allow him to use his full set of skills he has developed over the years, to stay engaged and to fuel his entrepreneurial spirit.
“I like a job that has something different happening every day, a job that is always interesting,” said Finken. “Becoming director of such a busy airport is certainly filled with challenges.”