The Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce received four nominations from its membership for its 2005-2006 award for business or businessperson of the year.
None stood out more than Air North.
“Air North stood out in front of everyone else because of their huge contribution,” said chamber president Rick Karp who sat on the awards selection committee.
“Look at what they’ve done not just in the past year but in the past few years in a very, very competitive market,” said Karp on Thursday.
“Air North is bringing Whitehorse and Yukon to the rest of the country.
“They have established a fantastic reputation in terms of service and customer satisfaction.
“They are true ambassadors of the Yukon.”
The company was founded in 1977.
“Our growth has been slow but steady,” said company president and CEO Joe Sparling.
“Acquiring the jets and starting the service to Vancouver was one of the bigger steps,” Sparling said Thursday from Vancouver.
“It’s always an honour to be recognized by your peers.”
Sparling owns about 51 per cent of the company.
The other 49 per cent is owned by the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation development corporation, which is owned in turn by almost 900 First Nation members.
But almost one per cent of the company is owned by about 600 Yukoners, said Sparling, who is also a pilot.
Sparling took advantage of the Yukon Small Business Investment Tax Credit Program in 2002.
The Yukon government program was designed to promote local investment.
It gave investors a one-time credit against their taxes equal to 25 per cent of the value of their investment, said Sparling.
“We put four offerings before the Yukon market, each in the amount of $800,000,” he said.
“We attracted almost 600 Yukon investors and raised $3.2 million in local equity capital.”
Investors must hold their shares for five years to receive the tax credit.
But they may be opened to trading in September 2007 and again in September 2009.
“Those investors will likely be given an opportunity to trade their shares for a different category of share that will allow them to retain some of the benefits they have, primarily the flight dividends, and it will potentially create an opportunity for some local public trading in the stock.”
Sparling couldn’t specify what Air North is currently worth, but said its revenue base and profitability have grown exponentially over the last five years.
Air North has four Hawker Siddeley 780s and two Boeing 737-200s that regularly commute to Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Dawson City, Inuvik, Old Crow and Fairbanks, Alaska.
“We’re just trying to perfect what we do,” said Sparling.
“Our growth opportunities are in our own backyard.
“Some more market share up here, some more charter opportunities, but nothing major.”
The airline has been a vital link between Whitehorse and the business community of southern Canada, former Yukon cabinet minister Trevor Harding said during the chamber’s annual general meeting on Tuesday.
When it comes to investment, seeing is believing and Air North has provided access, Harding told about 85 people attending the chamber luncheon.
“Air North has been terrific for the economy here,” said Harding, who lives in Calgary as a southern connection of the Whitehorse-based Northern Vision Development group.
“We can get people up here for a reasonable cost.”
The company has helped Yukon communities flourish, said Karp.
“People go to them and they offer all sorts of incentives.
“They support sponsorships. They do so much.
“And what a wonderful example of the co-operation between First Nations and non-First Nations.”
The chamber made three other award presentations Tuesday. The Wharf on Fourth won the award for offering the best service in Whitehorse.
Local merchant Chris Sorg, President of the Main Street Yukon Society, was honoured for the best community contribution.
And lawyer Rodney Snow of the legal firm Davis and Co. was named volunteer of the year.
“The volunteer of the year is internal, so we go through and look at who has made a contribution to the success of the chamber,” said Karp.
“Rodney has done a lot of work for us in helping us develop our partnerships, such as with the department of Highways and other partnerships.”