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.”
Potential snowball effect
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.”
Parsons maintains there remains a lot of potential for further industry and development throughout the 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.”
Count Airport Manager Lew Short among those pleased by the sale.
“Over the last 10 years the airport has struggled to keep the doors open because we really haven’t had any major investment into the airport and, you know, with the not having scheduled air carrier service it’s a challenge,” said Short on Monday, Sept. 13. “This changes the whole ballgame really. You know, it’s a new day and we’re going to have the resources to be able to do what we need to do to put some investment into the airport. And that in turn is going to bring business. I foresee that we’re going to be looking at that passenger service traffic out of Stephenville, regular passenger service traffic.”
This deal this will also benefit the region’s residents who will appreciate more options for their flights.
“It’s going to give more options to everybody in southwestern Newfoundland, from Burgeo to Port aux Basques to all of the Southwest coast. They’re not just going to have one option of going to Deer Lake, they’re going to be able to come to Stephenville, and they will be able to get flights out of here as well. It’s not that we want to take anything from Deer Lake, but it’s the whole idea of providing a service to southwestern Newfoundland. So, if you’re living in Port aux Basques and you decide you want to fly out of Stephenville, and that’s going to save you two hours, well that’s an option that you can exercise down the road, and that’s something you don’t have that option today,” noted Short.
Those already working at the airport are going to get a bump on their paycheques.
“The new company coming in has committed to retaining all the staff that we currently have at the airport, and he also committed to giving all of them a raise as part of the transition,” confirmed Short.
The Stephenville Airport is currently run by the Winnipeg Airport Services Corporation (WASCO). Short noted that WASCO’s future at the airport will depend on future negotiations.
“The town wanted a change in management. So the Winnipeg Airport authority, they were hired to manage the airport. They in turn hired me to be their representative on site here. Moving forward, once Dymond takes over control of the airport, that contract with WASCO will be renegotiated,” explained Short. “I’m not sure what that’s going to entail right now. The only thing I can tell you is that I was advised that they wanted me to stay on as the manager of the facility.”
What works best in WASCO’s favour is a commitment to safety.
“The Dymond Group will renegotiate the contract, especially for the safety management portion. WASCO has probably one of the best safety management systems in the country, and that’s something that we have taken advantage of here, and we certainly want to continue with that,” said Short.
The airport deal is projected to create thousands of jobs, and Short shared that Dymond is looking to hire locally.
“I know that the work that’s going to be coming in here. They are committed to hiring local people first,” said Short. “Exactly what these positions are at this point in time, I can’t tell you. I just know that we’ve got a large amount of infrastructure to build here, so I would expect that it would be trades associated with that.”
Although thousands of jobs are expected to be created, that will take some time.
“Once they take control of the airport, they’re going to bring in their initial staff that they need to do the initial setup, and it’ll be a gradual process of hiring. By the end of this year we may only be hiring 50 people, but by the end of next year that’ll probably be 300 people. And then like the following year, we’re probably looking at 2,500 people. So as we build the infrastructure, more people will be hired,” explained Short. “We’re not talking about 2,500 jobs tomorrow, we’re talking over the next number of years we will be building up to.”
The deal will also see the installation of an air traffic control tower at the airport, which will draw in additional flights that were not an option before.
“We have a mobile air control tower ordered and as soon as we can get that brought in that will be installed and put in place until such time as a permanent tower can be built. The reason for doing that is because, the military for instance, they’re very reluctant to fly into an airport that does not have a control tower. So having a control tower is certainly an advantage that we can use to attract more traffic, more airlines to the airport.”
Investing in home
Mayor Tom Rose believes this is nothing short of life-changing news for the Town of Stephenville.
“It could end up being probably one of the biggest announcements for Stephenville as this project moves forward, on a similar scale to when the air force base was being built – maybe not to that scale, but it might be number two in the history of this town,” said Rose.
The Dymond deal not only ensured the payment of any outstanding debt the airport had accumulated, but a projected $200 million investment overall.
“Technically the airport was in debt, and a part of the transfer deal is the Dymond Group takes over and clears the debt of the airport,” explained Mayor Rose. “They committed to do $10 million towards a new fire hall which actually benefits the town directly. Our fire hall plays two roles – the airport and our town, and that’s really beneficial to the taxpayers. So that was a $10 million commitment. Overall the capital expenditures for this group of companies – in order for them to have the airport ready to get international status, to do the drone development, they’ve got a projected $200 million invested in capital expenditures at the airport.”
In addition to the new fire hall, it is estimated that the airport could need upwards of 16 new buildings built. Rose says this could have enormous far-reaching benefits.
“We’ll have to charge taxes on these buildings, which means more taxes to the town, which means we can provide higher level and better services,” said Rose. “The airport may be sold, but no one is picking up the airport and moving it away. The airport is always going to be there, but now it’s going to be there with a solid business plan, no drain on the taxpayers, and every time a new building gets built or infrastructure goes into the airport, that’s going to create jobs, it’s going to create economics, and social benefits to the town.”
The workforce required to fulfill the thousands of jobs may be something that could entice people to return home to Newfoundland.
“Just from going around in the public lately, people are just walking up to me telling me it is a great news story, so uplifting,” said Rose. “I know people who are already making decisions to move home. That’s what we want. We’re going to generate jobs and that means you’re going to need human capital. We’re going to need to see ex-patriot Newfoundlanders to look at coming home and working for these companies at the airport.”
Rose says it won’t just be the companies directly associated with the airport that will benefit, and that many different businesses will see benefits as well.
“In the retail sector, commercial development, residential development, this is big,” said Rose. “Anytime you have a major economic driver that happens like this, it’s going to have a positive impact on all businesses in the town.”
Rose said that local workers who need not worry about jobs being given to people working away before them, and believes we could see job opportunities sooner than you think.
“The thing is their companies will use every local business they can and every local employee they can,” shared Rose. “I’m thinking we’re going to see job opportunities happening as early as November. That’s my prediction. I think you will start to see visible infrastructure moving into the airport as early as November. We are in September now, that’s not very far away.”
Rose pointed out that Dymond is a Newfoundlander too.
“He was just delighted to be in this town. He is a Newfoundlander repatriating back to this province. He’s using the tagline ‘Investing in Home,’ because this is his home,” said Rose. “It has uplifted the spirits in our community. We’ve struggled, there’s no question about it, but we never gave up. Not once.”