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Authority to market Bemidji Regional Airport

The Bemidji Airport Authority will spend more than $23,000 to market the airport, hoping to increase traffic to an already-busy airport.

The authority will apply for a $23,260 state grant to hire Tanya Korpi MacLeod of Tanya Korpi Strategic Communications of Bemidji to do the marketing. Media buys area included in the grant.

Korpi earlier this month presented her marketing proposal to the authority. Authority Executive Director Harold Van Leeuwen had wanted to bring back Korpi for another meeting with the authority early next year, but Authority member Roger Hellquist pushed the issue at Wednesday evening's meeting by motioning that the authority seek the state grant and hire Korpi

Details of a contract will be worked out now and the authority will decide how to spend the money on media buys.

The motion passed 3-1, with Authority member Jim Lucachick opposed. "I know I'm in the extreme minority, but I don't see any value for spending taxpayer dollars to market the airport. For $200,000, the state could be spending it places that are much better."

The state Legislature statutorily set aside $200,000 from commercial airline fees, fees which would go elsewhere if Bemidji didn't accept its share, Van Leeuwen said.

"It's free to our taxpayers," said Authority member Ron Johnson.

"If we don't market our airport, that's not the view of other airports," Van Leeuwen said. "We are in a competitive market. People will fly where they know they can."

Authority member Jack Frost voted with the majority, but said he was "a little bit skeptical." But he said the airport "has been identified as an economic development driver for the community."

Frost said he would hope there would be some way to determine how much new traffic the marketing draws to Bemidji.

That might be shown right away with an experiment by Sun Country Airlines, Van Leeuwen said.

Sun Country is planning a series of flights out of Bemidji to test the market to Las Vegas, he said. The first one leaves March 5 and returns March 8 with roundtrip fare to Laughlin, Nev.

The $349 package, double occupancy, includes hotel, roundtrip air fare and transfers, he said, with nonstop service. The flight originates in the Twin Cities, stops in Bemidji and flies direct to Laughlin, Van Leeuwen said.

A shuttle bus will take participants to Las Vegas for gambling or they can stay in Laughln, where there are numerous golf courses, Van Leeuwen said.

Sun Country will fly a 150-passenger Boeing 737.

"More flights depends on the success of this flight," he said, adding that the company is already marketing the flight with newspaper ads. He's meeting with Sun Country officials on Friday for more information and support requirements.

Down to two

Delta Airlines will provide two roundtrip flights a day from Bemidji to the Twin Cities from January to March, Van Leeuwen said.

"What is different this year is that one flight will be with a Saab and the other with the CRJ regional jet," he said.

In an effort to monitor ticket prices, the state Department of Transportation has found that Delta is now charging an average of $160 added onto air fares from Bemidji or the other four Minnesota regional airports on connecting Delta flights in the Twin Cities.

Union contract

Bemidji Regional Airport has two union members, with the Airport Authority voting 3-1 to offer them a three-year contract. Opposing was Lucachick.

The Authority's proposal calls for no pay raise in 2011, and 1 percent less than the Consumer Price Index in 2012 and 2013. An estimate of 3 percent is being used.

It also calls for on-call status at 25 percent of base pay rather than have them report to work and wait for a storm or other work. The on-call status doesn't count toward overtime.

Medical premiums are shared 50/50 not to exceed $600 per year, and the airport continues to have the right to re-open contract sections with 60 days notice.