Most locals know the story of how a television segment on the CBS news show 60 Minutes helped propel Branson into the national spotlight. Few have probably considered the rest of the story. Prior to that telecast, what else contributed to bringing national entertainment and other companies to Branson?
Consider an often overlooked area general aviation jewel –M. Graham Clark Airport, the foresight of College of the Ozarks, and dedicated supporters such as Mark and Lea Trimble.
Many residents driving down Hwy 65, past the end of the runway, don’t realize the important contributions that strip of Pt. Lookout ground has made, and continues to make to the Branson area’s economic health.
What they may notice is the variety of planes, private, corporate and military flying overhead after taking off or approaching for a landing. What they might not consider is the money that the airport brings into Taney County, either directly or indirectly.
When Branson exploded from a regional to national attraction, the airport played a key role.
College of the Ozarks built M. Graham Clark Airport. It opened the airport in 1970 and utilized it for their aviation program, but, did not keep its use to themselves. Of the many contributions Hardwork U has made to the area, the airport is another that keeps on giving.
“The most important thing they did when the college opened the airport was to keep it opened to the public,” Airport Manager Mark Parent said. The aviation pro has a long history with the airport, both as a manager and an aviation instructor with the college.
“The reason I say it was important is because without a general aviation airport to support a community, what you usually end up with are locally owned businesses,” Parent said, “and that’s what Branson was for a long time. The Presleys, the Baldknobbers, Silver Dollar City, Englers Block.
“After 1989, we saw significant growth in Branson from outside companies coming to town like Dixie Stampede, Ozark Mountain Bank. All these companies that came here flew in once a month to tend to their businesses. They were able to do that because the college kept this airport open to the public. It was very significant to the growth of our community” Parent said.
National influences land
Graham Clark Airport’s adequate runway and easy access to Branson facilitated influential outsiders to check out Branson’s business potential, then helped maintain their business once established.
“In 1989, I think, Roy Clark came in that year,” Parent said. “I remember that he flew in his own Cessna 206. It was a significant day. That is when growth started here when he came to town.”
One thing lead to another.
Influential Branson businessman Jim Thomas brought Mickey Gilley to town to play Roy Clark’s Theater, reports a 2004 magazine story. Gilley did the show, saw the potential of Branson.
After Gilley, a pilot, opened his own Branson theater, he told the interviewer that had he not been able to fly his plane out of Branson on weekend’s to tend to his business in Texas, he could not have kept his Branson Theater open.
Parent recalls another outside company that utilized M.Graham Clark Airport to establish itself in Branson.