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St. Cloud works to gain daily air service

ST. CLOUD - Three years ago, the St. Cloud Regional Airport lost its daily scheduled air service that went from St. Cloud to Minneapolis. Now, the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation is working to bring twice-daily scheduled air service from the St. Cloud Regional Airport to Chicago O'Hare International Airport.

"We've had meetings with a series of possible aircraft suppliers," Al Kremers, air service chair of the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation, said. "We're currently exchanging data with two different major airlines."

The development corporation identified daily air service as its number one priority about a year ago, Kremers said. For the last eight months, it has been Kremers' sole focus.

"We know we need this to attract businesses," Kremers said. "So far we've had one German company that has brought its business to St. Cloud, but there is a need for Chicago service."

In spring 2012, the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation surveyed 370 businesses in the central Minnesota area. Marketing Consultant Jami Bestgen said those businesses estimated they would save about $6.1 million by having a St. Cloud to Chicago flight.

"I wouldn't call this just a desire," Kremers said. "It's a need."

Businesses have also told the development corporation the air service is needed to recruit potential employees, especially for management positions, Kremers said.

The development corporation chose Chicago as its connection point also due to the demand from businesses, Kremers said.

"It really is the preferred connection place," he said. "We think it'd be good to have competitive pricing with Minneapolis for our flight to Chicago."

Kremers' timeline for the air service is to hopefully find out which airline will be servicing St. Cloud by mid-August and see it go into place by the end of September or early October.

"We always have to be optimistic," Kremers said. "We definitely have a better than 50-50 chance of coming out successful."

The St. Cloud Regional Airport currently offers twice a week service on a direct flight to Mesa, Ariz. The service started Dec. 15, 2012, and at the end of June, it had flown more than 15,700 passengers.

"I really do expect that we will be implementing this daily service," Kremers said. "Willmar is a viable marketplace for us, and we look forward to being able to work with the businesses there in the future."