Gary/Chicago International Airport

The Challenge

Revitalizing and positioning the Gary/Chicago International Airport (GYY) as Chicago’s “third airport”

The Gary/Chicago International Airport had long suffered from failed development plans and airlines that came and went, damaging the reputation of the City of Gary and the Airport Authority. In 2013, a public-private partnership (P3) was created to accelerate job creation and long-term investment in the airport. The P3 Committee was faced by a skeptical public accustomed to seeing another “big idea” to develop the airport go bust. Moreover, the Airport Authority needed to overhaul its reputation to prove it was serious, ready, and willing for this type of development concept in order to attract the investment community.

The Solution

A targeted media campaign and unparalleled public-private communication

In order to reposition its aviation services offering and restore its airline credibility, GYY needed significant financial resources to extend its main runway and undertake other construction projects. Hawthorne Strategy Group developed and implemented a targeted media campaign to secure high-profile coverage of the airport plan, aimed at the Chicago and Northwest Indiana media markets, financial investment news media, and aviation trade publications. By addressing both the local community and larger investment community, Hawthorne aimed to improve GYY’s image and encourage investment from all areas. Constant collaboration and feedback with Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, local officials, and private partners was an essential cornerstone of the plan.

The Results

The necessary investment was attracted for GYY to open an almost 9,000-foot runway

Hawthorne secured significant media coverage of the plan in all target markets, including media outlets such as the Chicago Tribune, Northwest Indiana Times, community newspapers, and the national financial publication The Bond Buyer. The skeptics were proved wrong, and within one year, the Airport Authority signed a $100 million total investment package for the airport and the City of Gary with a world-class development company. With the investment and an improved public image, GYY opened a runway longer than any at Midway and was endorsed as a supplemental airport alternative for O’Hare and Midway. Boeing, Menard’s, and Ford Motor Company now use GYY as a corporate and transportation hub. President Obama and Air Force One have also flown in and out of the airport. The city and the airport still have room to grow, but their investment reputation is taking flight.