EVELETH — The final piece of a Delta Air Lines transformation project at the company’s Chisholm customer engagement center was OK’d by the Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board on Thursday.
A $5.9 million loan, with forgiveness criteria and required job levels, was approved.
The project, which will expand, transform and upgrade the two-decade old facility, will increase the current full-time workforce of 418 by 107 to 525 employees.
The loan, with a 12-year term, will trigger a forgiveness clause once a 525-employee level has been reached. If employment stays above 450, the full loan will be forgiven; if it falls to 400-449 workers, 50 percent of the payments will be due; if the workforce falls below 400, there will be no loan forgiveness.
Susan Judson, managing director of reservation sales for Delta Air Lines in Atlanta, said in a telephone interview that it will take 18 months for the project to be completed. She said the company is “committed to using local contractors and suppliers.”
She said the 107 new jobs will add $5 million annually in pay and benefits to the current $25 million payroll at the Chisholm center. Wages will range from $22,000 to $48,000, plus benefits. In addition, Judson said employees at the Chisholm customer engagement center will get a 3 percent raise in April 2014.
Judson said the company is “actively hiring now” and a new class of employees will start next Monday.
Delta officials, a former state senator and IRRRB economic development staffers all received praise at the agency board meeting. But the most laudatory comments were reserved for current workers at the Chisholm center for their efforts in helping to land an additional 107 jobs at the facility.
“The employees of the Chisholm center made this possible. That’s the reason they are expanding,” IRRRB Commissioner Tony Sertich said. “Their work ethic, commitment and customer service ... those workers should be thanked the most.”
Board member and Sen. David Tomassoni of Chisholm said the Delta Air Lines project is an example of “the work ethic on the Range being showcased.”
And the state senator also said the ongoing work of former Sen. Doug Johnson of Tower to help secure more jobs for the Iron Range played an important role in the Delta Air Lines decision.
“Doug did a good job on this. The relationship between (Delta Air Lines CEO) Richard Anderson and Doug Johnson was important,” Tomassoni said.
The Anderson/Johnson friendship was forged 20 years ago. In a Mesabi Daily News story last May, Anderson said he had entered into talks with Johnson on “re-upping another long-term agreement” for more jobs in Chisholm.
Johnson, in a telephone interview, praised Delta Air Lines employees at the Range customer engagement center and the company’s CEO for making the deal happen.
“The Delta Airlines expansion is a great tribute to the work ethic of the Range people. Our employees are a hidden treasure that our political leaders must better market to other companies.
“I’m especially grateful that my friend, Richard Anderson, the CEO of Delta Air Lines, has once again shown his faith in our outstanding Iron Range people,” Johnson said.
Judson said the transformation of the center will be on several levels, including not only technology, but also changing the layout to provide “a better training center for a more effective leadership and engagement model with employees.”
In addition, she said the wellness center will be expanded and significantly improved. “We want our employees to have an even better workplace environment.”
Judson said Delta Air Lines officials want to be the company of choice on the Range.
“We have great employees on the Range. We brag about them all the time and how well they perform. We really value them,” she said.