Chattanooga region 'poised' for more, airport operator says

Chattanooga region 'poised' for more, airport operator says

August 14th, 2011 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Wilson Air Center President Bob Wilson says his company always tries to exceed expectations.

Wilson, whose Memphis-based business is a new fixed-base operator at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, tells the story of how his Charlotte, N.C., operation helped woo NASCAR to place its hall of fame in that city.

When the search committee flew into Charlotte, Wilson Air officials brought in a pace car and dressed all its personnel in the uniforms of different NASCAR teams, he said. When Charlotte was picked, the search panel cited Wilson Air as making a favorable impression, said Wilson, whose father, Kemmons, started the Holiday Inn chain.

"The first impression is the one you remember," Wilson said last week at the Chattanooga airport's new $5 million general aviation terminal and hangar, which his company will operate.

Airport officials say the facilities are the new business front door to the city in terms of corporate aircraft and general aviation and an economic development tool.

Wilson, who started his company in 1996, spoke to Mike Pare, deputy business editor of the Times Free Press:

Q: Why did you come to Chattanooga?

Wilson: We've looked at Chattanooga over the years. Only within the last three to four years has Chattanooga really shined. I think it's a shining star in the state of Tennessee by far. With the influx of Volkswagen, Amazon, Wacker, we started seeing a change in how Chattanooga operated. We think Chattanooga is poised to do a lot more.

Q: From a business sense, how do you see Chattanooga shaping up in terms of other places you do business in?

Wilson: They're all different animals. Charlotte has been up and now it's down a little bit with the banking debacle. Houston's been hanging in there from the petroleum side. Memphis is probably struggling as much as any. We wouldn't be here if we didn't believe what Chattanooga stood for and what we think can happen in the future.

Q: What about when the president says we need to tax companies, corporate jets - that's something that hits your business, isn't it?

Wilson: If I told you it didn't bother me, I'd be lying. You've got to remember one thing, he flies in a private jet, period. He's the one banging it the most. It's just talking out of both sides.

Once you lost time, you've lost it for your life. A business jet is a tool that saves time. If you figure it out what the cost of a chief executive is an hour, and what he can do and what he can bring and how many people he employs, it does it. What's the value of being home at night to your family?

But, there's another side to corporate aviation - what does it give back to the community? They fly cancer patients, they do veteran's airlifts. They do all sorts of things.

Q: You're aware of the business environment we're in now. Is this a difficult time to start a venture like this?

Wilson: You make your decision based on what's happening when you do it. Who would have thought our economy would have done what it has done when this thing was started originally? Not in anyone's wildest imaginations. These things don't happen overnight.

Q: What do you hear about phase two [which includes about $5 million in added hangar space]?

Wilson: Everything is predicated on filling up. You buy fuel, we fill hangers, space is here. I think it could come real quick.