By RENÉ J. ROY, RYAN KING and JAYMIE L. WHITE
– with files from Rosalyn Roy
STEPHENVILLE – On Thursday, Sept. 9, Carl Dymond of the Dymond Group and various dignitaries from around the region held a press conference to discuss the company’s purchase of Stephenville Regional Airport.
Airport manager Lew Short opened the proceedings by declaring that the Town of Stephenville will be taking a leading role in the aerospace industry.
“This is a good news story not just for Stephenville, but for the whole province,” said Short.
The President of the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women’s Network, Odelle Pike, offered a Land Acknowledgment, as well as an opening prayer, and a Prayer Song so that, “…the beginning of this session will be in a good way.”
After the ceremony, Carl Dymond, owner of the Ottawa-based company, took to the podium to officially announce the outright purchase of the Stephenville Airport by The Dymond Group of Companies.
“Our goal is to turn this back into a world class facility. We want to be able to get flights in, and we want to create a lot of jobs.” Dymond began.
He went on to thank Lew Short and Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose for what he called “a lot of eighteen nineteen hour days, with not a lot of sleep.”
With the purchase now completed, Dymond clarified that the parties are now in the 120-day grace period, in which bill of sales are finalized, as well as the clearance of all of the debts currently owed by the Stephenville Airport Corporation.
Rumours have been running wild in the Bay St. George area, with the most common being that Elon Musk and his SpaceX company or Tesla might be coming to town. Dymond addressed the high level of discretion involved during the process.
“We really wanted to remain discrete, and we were doing this because we didn’t want the community to be worked up for something that wasn’t probably going to happen,” said Dymond. “We wanted to protect the community because I know there’s been a lot of people come through these doors making big promises and not delivering. It wasn’t that we wanted to hide – it was more that we wanted to make sure the community, the integrity of what we’re doing is protected, and we said a little bit of pain right now is for long-term gain.”
Dymond intends to create something in Stephenville that will not only have an economic impact, but a social impact as well. He understands that any big change can come with some resistance.
“We know there’s going to be a lot of changes coming, a lot of opportunities, and some worrying from others. It’s okay because we’ll have that public-facing company so that we can alleviate those concerns. I know there’s quite a few people who don’t believe what’s happening. That’s okay. The proof is in the pudding, and that’s what we plan on doing,” said Dymond.
“What we’re putting together here, for this town, for this region, for this province, I think is going to be a game-changer in every way, shape, and form,” said Dymond. “Our goal is to turn this back into a world class facility. We want to be able to get flights in. We want to be able to bring a lot of good stuff here with industry. We want to create a lot of jobs.”
Job creation and commercial flights weren’t the only goals that Dymond shared with the public last Thursday. The drones he plans on manufacturing in Stephenville will serve a very important purpose.
“We also design our aircraft first and foremost to deliver supplies to Canada’s north. Food security there is ridiculous to say the least,” said Dymond. “Our goal is to normalize constant flights up north to be able to lower the cost of living. That’s part of our plan with the drones.”
News of the airport’s sale to Dymond Group started to gain traction only two days before the official press conference, but there was a reason Dymond wanted to keep things as quiet as possible.
Mayor Tom Rose of Stephenville, a long-standing advocate for the airport, has been waiting for something big like this to happen.
“We’re on a journey, a journey I’ve only dreamed of, and it has become a reality,” said Rose.
Rose believes that Carl Dymond represents the opportunity needed to bring Stephenville to the forefront once again.
“We need vision. Mr. Carl Dymond has a vision for this town, this community, this airport. He understands that it can be monetized from a global perspective.”
Rose sees this moment as a watershed moment for the town and the region.
Also announced was an early investment of 200 million dollars for airport infrastructure, including a new terminal, as well as additional investments for the community. These include plans to construct a new $10 million dollar fire hall, which will provide a base for the new fire trucks, and an expectation of 25 firefighters on staff to service the airport and the Town.
Dymond Group intends to build modern aircraft, including the drones that they are already known for.
“Our drones are some of the biggest in the world,” said Dymond. “They’re 117 feet wide, 80 feet long, and they can carry 52,000 pounds of cargo. That’s going to be flying without a pilot.”
He also pledged to keep commercial aviation in Stephenville, something that must be done to keep their Transport Canada Certification. To entice airlines to return to Stephenville Regional Airport, it will be re-branded as Stephenville Dymond International Airport, a control tower will be built, and the expectation is that there will be as many as twenty flights per day. All of the projects and work being promised will require a steady influx of labourers, and Dymond says they expect over the next few years to hire upwards of five thousand people.
The Dymond Group identifies itself as a ‘zero-harm company’. To that end, it fosters and supports local small business, and Dymond personally pledged to not take away any jobs in the community.
In fact, Dymond has already donated approximately a half a million dollars to Transition House, a facility that offers shelter and safety to victims of domestic violence. Near the end of the day’s events, he also made a series of $10,000 donations each to the The Food Bank, The Royal Canadian Legion, and the Search and Rescue Centre.
After several other local dignitaries spoke, including Scott Reid, and Qalipu First Nation Chief Brendan Mitchell, Short returned to the podium.
“In 1941, this airport was built when the Americans came in here, and they changed this community. I think what you’re witnessing here today is like the Phoenix. We’re rising from the ashes and there’s a new beginning today. And we’re going to grow from here, and I really think we’re going to impact the world.”
Rose made a similar observation in his closing remarks.
“You know, we’ve had two historical moments in the Town of Stephenville. Two economic booms. The first was in the 1940s and 50s, with the building of the largest US Airbase outside of the Continental USA, Harmon Air Force Base. We went through a significant growth in population. And then we had the Labrador Liner Board Mill built by Government, when we lost our Airbase, and it closed in 1966. This, this is our third economic boom, thanks to the Dymond Group of Companies.”
No taxpayer funding
Although he was invited to the press conference, a scheduling conflict meant that MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo – LaPoile), Minister of Industry, Energy and Technology (IET) wasn’t able to attend. He clarified that although his department was kept abreast of the impending sale, it wasn’t directly involved and that no taxpayer money or funding has been used to finance the purchase. Parsons did note that the government had a loan guarantee in place for the Stephenville Airport Corporation’s outstanding debt.
“So we have some insight on that side,” said Parsons. “But there has been no ask for ‘x’.”
Although Parsons was present at a meeting some time ago where Dymond Group made a presentation, his role throughout the process was non-existent.
“I’m an observer, same as everyone else.”
Parsons understands the skepticism coming from some of the public, and chalks it up to past disappointments when big projects were in the wind.
“We dealt with the ASIL building and I can remember sort of living and breathing, even as a young person, with what the possibilities could be and people’s expectations being raised and then their hopes dashed,” admitted Parsons. “As a resident of that area, obviously that airport has been under-utilized for some years now. Look at anybody that talks about setting up shop, creating jobs, creating opportunity, there’s a level of opportunity that comes with that that I share, that obviously I would love to help, but like anything I don’t get too ahead of myself and I don’t think anyone should get too ahead because these things take time, they take effort.”
Parsons says that in his role as IET Minister, he’s learned there’s a lot of behind the scenes work that needs to take place to accomplish large ventures.
“With something of this nature it brings about possibility. It brings about potential. It’s hard to quantify it or identify it, but what I will say is that it absolutely has generated significant interest. I have gotten a lot of calls this week talking about ‘Hey, what is going on there?’. So that tells me that people are interested in development. People are interested in the possibility of jobs, and whenever an industry settles there’s always indirect jobs that comes from it,” noted Parsons.
Over the past year alone, Parsons disclosed that he has met with drone technology manufacturers to learn what it can offer. He says some of the benefits of the Dymond Group’s purchase will likely extend beyond the obvious economic boost.
“I’ve watched demonstrations, so I am a big believer in the opportunity that comes with them and how they can address a lot of issues that we face, especially as a rural population,” said Parsons. “There’s no reason that we can’t address some very old dilemmas and issues and problems that we’ve faced with new tech like drones.”
He also says that just the Stephenville airport’s new future does not mean that the Deer Lake airport will be negatively impacted.
“A lot of my conversations over the years with the Stephenville Airport Corporation have not been geared at competition with Deer Lake at all. In fact, many people that I’ve talked to have gone out of their way to say, ‘Look, this is not about hurting Deer Lake.’ This is about finding other opportunities to increase traffic,” said Parsons. “What we have in Stephenville is proximity, and we have a lot of things going for us, whether it’s port access, it’s a ferry coming back and forth, whether it’s having a local labour force with know how. So there’s a lot of ways we could benefit.”
Parsons maintains there remains a lot of potential for further industry and development in this region but it’s a bit of a waiting game to see how Dymond Group’s plans unfold.
“It’s early to tell. Obviously we have the port. It’s ice free. We have experience,” said Parsons. “There’s tonnes of competition for that. There’s no reason we shouldn’t all be working together in this area to see what opportunities there are for us as it relates to shipping. We’re strategically located in this region in Newfoundland, between North America, between Europe. We’ve got a lot of advantages. So this why we’ve got to continue to strive, to find out what role can we play.”
Port aux Basques reaction
Incoming Mayor Brian Button has high hopes for the Stephenville Airport now that it has been given new life. He also believes that if the Dymond Group of Companies follows through on its promises, then there will be significant impact along the entire Southwest coast.
“If it pans out as big as it sounds right now, and it seems like it’s a very viable business, I think it’ll reach out even further than the West coast, probably for the entire island.”
Button noted that Port aux Basques council has an interest in continuing to work closely with Stephenville and the future of the airport.
”We have always thought it was a viable alternative for this community, and for the entire region when it comes to aviation and airport transportation,” said Button. “One of the stumbling blocks that we’ve had when it comes to attracting new business, especially when it comes from the manufacturing side and the things that we have in the pressure cooker now, when it comes to mining, well, having that viable international airport and a reinvestment in that airport certainly holds well for anybody looking at investing in this area.”
He believes that the residents will obviously greatly benefit from having an airport much closer.
“Kudos to the fine people of Deer Lake and their fine airport. But it’s always been a little bit of a pet peeve for all of us to have to drive past an airport thats second to none. It certainly makes it a lot easier for people to head in and it’s only an hour and a half up the road.”
While he is excited, Button concedes he has some reservations. Like most he has heard time and again large promises that have never come to fruition. But the press conference has given him good reason to be optimistic.
“There will always be some drawback, because the infrastructure that they may be looking for may not be readily available. I would think that with some of the downturns that we’ve seen over the last number of years, I think a lot of the infrastructure could be there. I’m sure there’ll be investors because right now, what’s been happening over the last number of years, they’ve been afraid to invest because they’re wondering if they’re going to get a return on their investments,” said Button. “I think we have opened up a brand new avenue in which we can entice new business.”
Outgoing mayor John Spencer shared a similar view of the announcement’s potential impact on this area.
“I personally think that this is tremendous. In 2017 this council stood with Stephenville, outlining the importance of that airport. And now through the Medevac service that it offers, it’s a vital link, a vital piece of infrastructure, and today is a good day for the entire South coast region,” stated Spencer.
Port aux Basques town council has been working to help keep the Stephenville airport operational for years.
“It was in 2017 at the MNL (Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador) convention that we stood in a conference in Corner Brook and vocally expressed our interest in maintaining that Stephenville airport, ,” said Spencer. “They approached us for representation on their board. This council placed a member of council on the board. They saw the connection between here and the Southwest corner for many, many hundreds of people that travel back and forth to the Great Lakes, moving back and forth to Alberta, all across Canada.”
Spencer has no doubt this region will reap some rewards too.
“Any spinoff of Stephenville is certainly going to filter down this way,” said Spencer. “Just the fact that the future of the airport seems to be on a firm footing – it’s good, it’s fantastic. It’s fantastic for Newfoundland.”