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Aviation company presents business plan to Airport Commission

DreamCatcher Aviation hopes Bemidji airport officials will soon clear the business for takeoff.

DreamCatcher hopes to launch a venture in which it would paint, furnish and refurbish corporate and similar-sized aircraft to meet its customers' specifications.

And, company officials hope the new business will be headquartered in Bemidji.

During a special meeting of the Bemidji Regional Airport Commission on Tuesday, representatives of DreamCatcher Aviation presented their proposal to base a new aviation company at the Bemidji airport.

The business would be marketed worldwide to corporations and manufacturers through different outlets, including aviation magazines, said E.H. Marlene Booth, the corporate finance officer for DreamCatcher.

"The world is going to be our oyster," she said.

Attorney Derek Lind led the one-hour presentation to the Airport Commission and economic planners. He broke his discussion into three phases: the company's vision, what the company would bring to Bemidji and what the company is seeking from the Airport Commission.

No action was taken at Tuesday's meeting. Chairman Marshall Froyd said the proposal would next be turned over to a yet-to-be-named committee, which would be announced at the Airport Commission's July 18 meeting.

The vision

The company's goal is to offer a one-stop shop for corporate customers who need to make changes to their private jets.

DreamCatcher would offer everything from painting the exterior of the planes, adding custom graphics - one slide even showed an airplane painted to look like a whale - furnishing and refurbishing upholstery, cabinets and install, check, repair or upgrade avionics.

"Someone would come in with an idea and leave with a jet that looks exactly like that," he said, adding that the result would be "very lush, very plush."

The market demand for such a company is abundant, Lind said. He said in 2005 there were 39,000 corporate and business aircraft in the U.S. and Canada; in 2007 there were 43,000.

There has been a 24.1 percent increase in the number of corporate jets from last year to this year, he said.

And, while other companies may offer exterior painting or one piece of what DreamCatcher plans to offer, no one company offers everything, he said.

What the area gains

A tentative timetable was presented to the Airport Commission.

In fall and winter 2007, DreamCatcher would conduct site preparation - the company already has the construction costs and the architect, Lind said.

Construction would start in spring 2008, which also is when marketing of the company would begin. Recruitment and hiring of employees would commence as well.

The goal, Lind said, is to open for business in the first quarter of 2009.

The architect of the project is North Dakota-based Schoen Associates Architecture. The designer is Jim Kobetski, who works with Schoen Associates.

The building now is planned to be $15 million, he said. Kobetski said he is working with DreamCatcher and has developed several layouts. The current plan covers just more than 122,000 square feet using three hangars.

"We're very excited about doing it," he said.

Lowell R. Goodman, who is crunching the numbers for DreamCatcher, said the business would employ between 125 and 150 people.

If the plan goes forward, Goodman said there would be three different types of employment affected by DreamCatcher's venture in Bemidji.

The first is direct employment, the actual people hired by the aviation company. The second is indirect employment, and the third would be induced employment, the resulting jobs throughout the area that would need to be filled due to increased spending in Bemidji.

What they want

Company officials requested a 24-month payout on the construction loans.

That would mean the company would pay for the construction of the building. But, after two years, the Airport Commission would purchase the building from the company and then lease the facility back to DreamCatcher. The building would be located within Bemidji's JOBZ property.

Lind also said the company would like to reserve 20 acres of nearby land for a possible future expansion.

"We do expect to grow," he said.

Also requested was the right to sublease the building, with the authorization of the Airport Commission, a 50-year option on the lease, and the right to pay-down the lease. Another request was that DreamCatcher would make interest-only payments for the initial three years.

Commission reacts

Froyd, the chair of the Airport Commission, asked if there are any current competitors that offer similar services.

President and CEO Bruce Booth said companies that would compete with DreamCatcher primarily are located in the south, such as along the Gulf Coast and in California and Texas.

But, he added, DreamCatcher would offer all of the services corporations are seeking, not just one or two pieces.

In regards to marketing, Marlene Booth said the aviation company would employ a full-time sales person to market DreamCatcher to potential customers.

Three years ago, when first researching the idea, Marlene Booth said she couldn't find any competition.

And, she added, even if other companies develop that offer similar services, "There is plenty of work out there for all of us."

Bruce Booth also said northern Minnesota offers advantages that the south is not able to. He said the humid climate in the south develops unforeseen problems, such as rust and metal decay. Also, the lack of bugs in the area would be a plus, he said.

As for attracting a capable workforce, DreamCatcher officials said there are plenty of people working the south would love to move, or in some cases even return, to the Midwest.

The company, Bruce Booth explained, would have to bring in an initial workforce of about 15 people who specialize in avionics.

But, he said he foresaw partnerships with Bemidji State University and other surrounding colleges to provide the addition needed workers.

Marlene Booth said she especially is impressed with BSU's graphic arts program and its 3D engineering capabilities.

Others noted that the company could boost neighboring companies that could offer partnerships in upholstery and similar services.

Froyd concluded the meeting by informing DreamCatcher that the proposal would be sent to the unnamed committee, but voiced his general support of the plan.

"I'm pretty excited," he said. "I'd like to see it happen."