North State Aviation LLC celebrated its fourth anniversary Thursday, opening the event by showing the TV clip from the end of the U.S. hockey team’s semifinal victory over the Soviet Union.
The win came during the 1980 Olympics at the height of the Cold War. It’s the one in which announcer Al Michaels gave his famous call of “Do you believe in miracles? … Yes!”
Charlie Creech, the company’s president, told his workforce of 383 and other members of the audience, which included civic and elected, why he chose the clip.
“That (U.S. hockey) team certainly was underdogs,” Creech said. “They had a tremendous support group with clear direction. They had a commitment to each other to make things happen.”
Creech said the moral of the story – to him – is that “they wanted to finish.”
“I like to believe we have many of the same qualities here. I can guarantee you one thing. We have an owner and a head coach (Al Bodford) that is second to none.
“He gave us a cause, he clearly defined where we needed to be. He nurtured us through tough times and when it was time for us to step on the ice, he stepped out of the way. He taught us that we have to consistently finish.”
The top executives at North State Aviation LLC have strived to embrace their maintenance heritage, particularly Piedmont Airlines, while distancing themselves from the now-defunct Pace Airlines, whose production space they occupy at Smith Reynolds Airport.
The main element of the North State celebration was reaching the 400 threshold in aircraft renovation projects, including more than 300 with its main customer, United Airlines. The main project to date has been installing a satellite-based system on 160 of United's Boeing 737-700, 800 and 900 series aircraft.
Gaining United’s confidence was pivotal to North State’s existence.
Pace had a similar maintenance contract with Continental Airlines until shortly before collapsing in September 2009, costing 423 employees their jobs, including about 300 locally.
Creech and Russell Kota, North State’s vice president of maintenance, were members of Pace’s management team when it was owned by the estate of Bob Brooks, chairman of Hooters of America Inc.
They were replaced when William Rodgers Sr. bought the company from the Brooks estate in May 2009.
North State didn’t directly emerge like a phoenix from Pace’s ashes. But the Pace experience left airport and civic officials leery of putting faith that soon into another maintenance company.
Creech joked that in the first conversation he had with Smith Reynolds officials, including executive director Mark Davidson, they asked if North State intended to pay or not pay their rent.
“When we said ‘pay rent,’ things moved forward,” Creech said.
The company pledged in January 2011 it would have at least 308 employees within four years when it was made eligible for $300,000 in performance-based state incentives. It had 28 employees at that time and occupied 80,000 square feet on a monthly basis.
As North State demonstrated its ability to provide quality renovation work to United, the airline expanded its contract to where it represents six production lines.
“They have earned those lines through providing quality work at an effective cost,” said Manny Naeem, United’s vice president for technical planning, supply chain and outsourcing maintenance.
Creech said North State’s workforce consists of 365 full and 18 part-time employees, of which more than 100 are military veterans. He said 25 of the 28 employees at startup remain with the company.
“We went from a payroll of $91,000 to $14 million now,” Creech said. “We occupy more than 300,000 square feet and pay more than $1.4 million in annual rent and utilities. We’re among the top-50 employers in Forsyth.”
U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., praised North State as an example of a company recognizing an opportunity and seizing it through hard work, innovation and seeking assistance in terms of skill training for good-paying jobs.
Davidson said the airport’s master plan is to add another hanger, in part to give North State more expansion space. He said North State’s success has contributed to the airport commission being able to afford the on-going construction of Runway 4-22.
“The commission now has the local match required for the $2.6 million dollar project,” Davidson said.
“Four years ago, the commission could not have not made the financial commitment to the state Transportation Department and Federal Aviation Administration due to the unforeseen future and lack of cash on hand.
“Now, we are competing for FAA discretionary funds for other infrastructure projects, which will have a positive impact on all our tenants and users.”