private jets allow industry-leading companies to avoid the metro move
The benefits of business aviation for an aircraft’s users and company are clear, but the advantages of having access to an aircraft can also help support entire communities. They give growing businesses located outside of large city centers and with limited access to major airports the ability to respond quickly to business opportunities and customer needs that require travel. In short: private jets help to eliminate pressure for companies to move to metro areas simply because of transportation infrastructure needs.
The SEL flight department operates from Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport located just ten minutes from the company’s headquarters.
Pullman, Washington, is home to Washington State University, and the college-town atmosphere is apparent among its 32,000 residents. The school’s students make up a large portion of the population, but so do the 2,100 Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) employees who work at the company’s headquarters in Pullman.
Dr. Edmund Schweitzer was a professor at the university when he founded the company in his basement in 1982, designing and manufacturing products that protect the nation’s power grid by locating faults that can lead to outages and blackouts.
Today, SEL products are used for everything from power system protection to inter-country communication to substation automation in industries, ranging from petrochemical to education. SEL products even support several airports around the United States, making air travel safer.
From his company’s humble beginnings until now, there’s only one place where Dr. Schweitzer wanted his headquarters to be: Pullman.
SEL by the numbers
around the globe
Products sold in
465,000 sq. ft.
of manufacturing space
Pullman and the local universities—the University of Idaho is just eight miles away—are important to SEL. The company’s steady growth requires a steady influx of well qualified job candidates. It’s also important to Pullman that SEL resists pressure to move to a larger metropolitan area in order to take advantage of easier access to suppliers and customers. The engineering company is the city’s largest public sector employer.
Still, SEL is a global company, so its employees often travel to meet customers across the United States and around the world. The nearest international airport is 75 miles away in Spokane. This airport used to be a launching point for many of the company’s early trips, but the back-and-forth travel between Pullman and Spokane quickly grew tiring.
More than 2,000 employees work at SEL headquarters in Pullman, Washington, where the company’s products are both developed and manufactured.
"I realized when I started the company that many trips would start by getting up at three o’clock in the morning and driving to Spokane for a six o’clock flight somewhere," Schweitzer said.
Instead of relocating his company, he began researching business aviation in the late 1990s.
"I started thinking about how this tool could make sense for SEL," he said. "I chartered flights, trying different planes."
Schweitzer chartered a Learjet, Dassault and Cessna® private jets before SEL decided to purchase a Cessna Citation® Bravo®. Today, the company makes use of five Citation jets. Each airplane logs about 450 hours a year.
“If people need to go somewhere, we use it,” he said. “It’s like our bus line.”
A typical SEL aircraft mission
Getting in and out of Pullman for business trips is easier now, but for SEL employees, it also means working for an industry leader without having to relocate to a larger city that can come with heavy traffic and higher costs of living.
"Being based in Pullman with this kind of horsepower allows us to live and enjoy a rural way of life," said Jana Schultheis, SEL's property manager.
Schweitzer makes broad use of his aircraft to a majority of employees. Teams of machinists, engineers and technicians frequently find themselves on SEL’s passenger lists to meet the demands of the company’s around-the-clock support network. More than 2,000 different employees have used the fleet of aircraft for sales or support missions.
"When there's a customer with an emergency, we can pack on our products and service technicians, go to a natural disaster area and bring a substation back up,” Schultheis said. “It’s very liberating to be able to share that asset with employees throughout our company."
SEL's aircraft have eliminated the challenges of running a growing worldwide operation from headquarters outside a metro area. The multi-million dollar company is on track to generate more than a billion dollars annually in the coming years, and there are plans to add to the 130-acre Pullman facility.
"We wouldn’t be in Pullman, Washington, if it weren’t for business aviation," Schweitzer said. "That's how important it is."
SEL owns a fleet of five aircraft. Four are based in Pullman to primarily support the travel needs of the staff at headquarters. The other aircraft is based on the East Coast to support staff there.