Hundreds turned out for the GAMA Michigan Jobs Rally held last Friday at Duncan Aviation in Battle Creek, MI, to recognize the importance of aviation and its contributions to our communities and state.
Duncan Aviation's President, Aaron Hilkemann, along with U.S. Senator Gary Peters, from Michigan, and other aviation business leaders from Avfuel Corporation, L-3 Communications, and Williams International spoke in front of those gathered.
Each speaker addressed the crowd giving examples of how the aviation industry has positively impacted the economy of the state of Michigan, as well as the benefits to their communities, employees and families.
Hundreds gather at rally, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters speaks, and Duncan Aviation employee Mark Strong listens.
Duncan Aviation's President Addresses Crowd
Below is the speech Aaron Hilkemann gave before several Duncan Aviation employees, aviation industry leaders, and students from Western Michigan University.
2016 is a special year for Duncan Aviation. We are celebrating 60 years of providing business aircraft operators with safe, efficient and high-quality services. In 1956, Duncan Aviation was started by Donald Duncan when he bought a Beechcraft distributorship in Omaha, Nebraska. He had a passion for flight and an entrepreneurial spirit. He passed both along to his son, Robert, who ran Duncan Aviation for more than 40 years, and his grandson, Todd, who took over as Chairman in 2007 and is still very involved today.
The Duncan family operates several businesses, but Duncan Aviation is the one they identify with the most. They love flying, they love the people involved with flying, and they’re proud of the culture they have built at the Duncan Aviation facilities. As a family owned aviation company, a culture of constant improvement, teamwork, focused vision and family atmosphere is vital to our growth. And it is a culture that we work hard to instill in all of our locations.
In Battle Creek today we employ more than 600 people and we are currently hiring and expanding the team. These are interesting, career-inspiring jobs at many levels that include good health insurance, vacation time, 401(k) opportunities, a wellness culture and many other benefits.
This is a place where people want to work. We see that in the number of job applicants who have been recommended by current team members, many of them family members. 96 Duncan Aviation team members have a family member working here in BTL, with more than 40 different families represented. We love it when our good, hard working team members recommend their own family members. One example is the Slee family. The Slees have had three generations who have worked here. Four Slees are currently employed by Duncan Aviation. Tom Slee Senior, who is now retired, started the tradition by taking a position in the paint shop. He was followed by his sons, Matt, who works in Structures, and Tom Jr in Paint. Now, Matt has two sons working here, Josh in Structures and Mike with the Fuel Team.
In addition, we have nine husband and wife combinations employed here at Duncan Aviation Battle Creek. Some even initially met their spouse here.
Our company and general aviation as a whole offer a broad range of career progression opportunities. One example would be Tom Burt, who spoke earlier at this rally. He worked his way through college as a flight instructor and then started at Duncan Aviation as a beginning airframe mechanic. He progressed through customer service, sales, sales management and eventually into senior management.
This is also an industry that provides long, solid careers for many team members. Here at our Battle Creek facility, we have 24 team members who have been working in the company for more than 30 years. In fact, this year, Dale Vandelare celebrates his 40th anniversary. That is a nice, long, career and we want to congratulate him on that longevity.
Our industry is also well-known for providing opportunities to veterans and those transitioning from the military. At Duncan Aviation, we have hundreds of team members who have served or are serving in the military. In Michigan, nearly 22% of our team members have military experience. We are proud to be in an industry that employs so many veterans!
But our influence goes much further than the jobs we directly support. Our aviation business also supports a lot of good jobs in our communities. Because most of our customers come from a great distance, they often stay in local hotels, rent cars, eat in our local restaurants and spend money in our stores.
We estimate that every year our customers buy 4,500 hotel nights in Battle Creek or Kalamazoo. They purchase more than 13,500 meals at our restaurants. They rent cars more than 5,000 days per year. And some, especially our international customers, leave with aircraft full of products purchased in our local stores.
And we’re not alone. General aviation companies and jobs are good for our communities and states and we must be sure they continue to be properly supported and recognized for their contributions.