Emerson Aviation says BEDC loan helped business survive recession

Dave Emerson, left, stands with Ken Wilson, the loan officer for the Belknap Economic Development Corporation. The BEDC, in partnership with two banks, provided Emerson Aviation with the capital it needed to weather the recession and renew its growth. (Michael Kitch/The Laconia Daily Sun)

Dave Emerson, left, stands with Ken Wilson, the loan officer for the Belknap Economic Development Corporation. The BEDC, in partnership with two banks, provided Emerson Aviation with the capital it needed to weather the recession and renew its growth. (Michael Kitch/The Laconia Daily Sun)



LACONIA — "I grew up on the airport and I've been flying since I could walk," said Dave Emerson, whose father, Alan, founded Emerson Aviation in 1962, the year his son was born.

In 2005, several years after his father died while teaching a pilot when their plane plunged into Lake Winnipesaukee, Emerson acquired the company, the oldest "fixed based operator," or firm licensed to provide aeronautical services at an airport, in New Hampshire. A few years later, the economy slipped into what turned into the deepest recession since the Great Depression.

"We needed working capital," Emerson recalled, explaining the firm was saddled with debt at high interest rates, which it sought to refinance. "We were looking for $875,000," he said. A half dozen banks showed him the door before two offered to share a loan of $700,000. "I went to the Belknap Economic Development Council," Emerson said.

Ken Wilson, the council's loan officer, drew on the agency's revolving fund to arrange a $150,000 "gap loan" to complete the financial package Emerson required. Emerson said that with the advent of lower interest rates banks began approaching him and he was able to refinance his original borrowing. This week, he repaid the loan from the Belknap Economic Development Council. "The ink is not even dry," Wilson remarked.

Justin Slattery, executive director of the Belknap Economic Council, said "gap loans," which bridge the loan-to-value ratio expected by banks, are the mainstay of the council's portfolio.

"We don't compete with banks," he stressed. "We collaborate with banks."

Wilson, himself a veteran commercial loan officer, said that "our borrowers talk with the banks before they see me."

Noting that "every deal is different," he said that many loans, including that to Emerson Aviation, take the form of secondary mortgages secured by real estate.

Slattery emphasized that the revolving loan fund, which is continually replenished as loans are repaid, is separate from the council's operating budget, which funds salaries and other initiatives like fostering workforce development with schools and providing technical assistance to businesses.

Slattery said that with its revolving loan fund the council is able to assist local firms with the financing they require to retain and expand employment as well as make equipment purchases and undertake construction projects. Recently, the Belknap Economic Development Council partnered with Meredith Village Savings Bank to finance Hermit Woods Winery of Meredith and Bank of New Hampshire to finance to G.C. Engineering Inc. of Laconia.

Emerson said that when Mitt Romney, who owns a home on Lake Winnipesaukee, was a presidential candidate, the skies in the Lake Region teemed with aircraft, and, although traffic has thinned, his business is thriving. Emerson offers the only air taxi service in the Lakes Region along with flight instruction and the fueling. The air taxi service, which ferries executives between homes on the lakes and commercial centers across the Northeast, is the most profitable segment of the business. Meanwhile, Emerson said that as the economy recovers flight instruction has increased.

The firm operates a fleet of five airplanes, one twin-engine Piper Aztec doubling as a trainer and taxi. Emerson effectively operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, and employs 10 people, including three pilots. Emerson's father managed the airport, plowed the runway and tended the beacons and the company still clears the runway under a contract with the Laconia Airport Authority.

Emerson said his next project will be to construct a hangar with de-icing capability. He said that without de-icing capacity, Laconia is a three-season airport, especially for corporate jets.

"We get two or three calls a week about de-icing," he said, "as more and more are bringing their children to the private schools in the region — Brewster, Tilton and New Hampton." He indicated that the expansion would add another three to five jobs.

When the time comes, Emerson will approach the banks first, then, if necessary, the Belknap Economic Development Council.

Note: This story has been updated to correct Justin Slattery's name.

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It's not a sprint - Local athletes prep for this year's Boston Marathon


They say each journey begins with a single step. For those who have registered to run in the Boston Marathon, including some with ties to the Lakes Region, that first step will be followed by tens of thousands more.

Kara Irwin, who grew up in Laconia and graduated from Laconia High School in 2004, was athletic in high school but didn't pick up running until she became an adult. In 2013, she ran ran her first marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., When she found out that her employer, the YMCA of Greater Boston, was fielding a team for the Boston Marathon, to be held this year on April 18, she was eager to join.

As part of the team, Irwin has a fund raising goal of $8,000, and Boston is likely to be more difficult than the Marine Corps marathon, she said. But, she's energized to tackle the challenge.

"Understanding the cause and the mission of the Y makes it easier," she said. She also has the assistant of the Boston YMCA's healthy living specialist coaching the team of runners. In her current training regimen, she has run up to 16.5 miles, and her longest planned training run is 22 miles.

In 2013, Irwin was among the spectators near the finish line when the Tsarnaev bothers set off two homemade bombs, killing three and injuring more than 200. She said she was about a half-block away from the first explosion, and saw the second bomb explode seconds later.

"We were on Boylston Street,  we ran through one of the restaurants there, across the Mass. Ave Bridge and kept running." For Irwin, experiencing the attack, as well as the subsequent pursuit of suspects and community response to the tragedy, provides motivation. "It was a scary experience, but it makes you feel proud of where you live, and proud to accomplish something like that."

The bombings are also a source of motivation for Rebecca Bagdigian, 22, who lives in Boston and is running to raise money for Camp Hale in Holderness. Bagdigian grew up in Stowe, Massachusetts, and said she always watched coverage of the marathon. She then moved to Boston and made it a point to observe the event in person.

"Then the bombings happened, and I wanted to be part of it," she said. In 2013, she would have been at the finish line, had she not overslept and missed her train. "It was pretty terrifying," she said.

Bagdigian is still living in Boston, where she is studying architecture at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. For the past two summers, she has worked as a camp counselor at Camp Hale, in Holderness, where she enjoys introducing young people to the natural world and challenging them to achieve things they didn't know they can do. She imagines that this summer, she can use her marathon run as inspiration.

"Listen, if I can run 26 miles, you can get to the top of this mountain," she said.

This will be Bagdigian's first full marathon – she has done two half marathons so far – and Sandy Woehr-Blouin said she will likely be hooked on the experience. Woehr-Blouin, 53, ran her first marathon when she was 49. Her first was the Philadelphia Marathon, she didn't run in 2013 for superstitious reasons, and this year's Boston Marathon will be her third consecutive running.

Woehr-Blouin, an Alton resident for nearly 30 years, had a rough time during her first Boston Marathon.

"At mile three, I got tripped." She fell and badly scraped her arms on the pavement. The pain from her arms was distracting enough that she was able to run the rest of the race without noticing that she had sprained her ankle – something she realized the following day. Still, she had to come back the next year.

"The people definitely bring you back, the crowd of people is just amazing," she said. Even last year, despite rain, the entire length of the course was filled with spectators, "people you don't even know are out there, cheering for you, it's amazing," she said. And then, after nearly four hours of running, the athletes turn onto Boylston Street for the final leg.

"For that last hundred feet, the crowd just roars, it gives you chills. It's a really cool thing."

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Judge denies Amy Lafond’s request for sentence reduction


LACONIA — A Belknap County Superior Court judge has denied a request to credit the woman who killed one teen and seriously injured another with 180 days toward her sentence for completing three life-skills classes while incarcerated.
Judge James O'Neill said he agreed with Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen who said the new law that would have credited Amy Lafond, 54, with the 180 days didn't go into effect until after she was sentenced for negligent homicide and second degree assault on May 29, 2014.
The Earned Time Credit law credits convicted felons with up to 180 days off a sentence if the inmate completes technical training, earns an associate's or bachelor's degree, engages in a family connections program and/or a mental health program. It became effective Sept. 9, 2014, and is intended to provide a reward for an inmate who tries to better himself or herself while incarcerated.
Guldbrandsen said in her objection that the sentences of 3 1/2 to 7 years for the negligent homicide and 3 to 7 years for the second-degree assault were the products of lengthy negotiations by her and Lafond's attorney Mark Sisti, and that if the law had been in effect when she was sentenced, it would have been taken it into consideration at that time.
She went on to say that the existing sentences were the "absolute minimum" that the state could impose in light of the crimes, the input from the victims' families, and the opinions of the Laconia Police.
Guldbrandsen said that she also contacted the families, who are very much against Lafond getting any reduced time.
Lafond pleaded guilty to killing Lilyanne Johnson and seriously injuring Allyssa Miner when she crossed a double line on Messer Street and struck the two as they were walking on the sidewalk.
Lafond is eligible for parole in September of 2019.

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