By Jodi Prill
Seeding Fargo Growth
Brothers use synergies to expand businesses and promote North Dakota region
FARGO , ND — For some, the 1996 Coen brothers' movie of the same name put this city on the map. However, the Sweeney brothers, James and Patrick, who call this agriculturally minded area (wheat fields surrounding the airport are still farmed) home, are working to expand its presence on the aviation map through two of their partnerships. Out of Weather Modification, Inc. (WMI), they established the Fargo Jet Center and continue to expand both businesses by playing off the synergies of a cloud seeding business and a fixed base operation.
Jim Sweeney, president and VP of Fargo Jet Center and WMI, respectively, never thought he'd move back to his hometown of Fargo , ND . After receiving a business degree in marketing from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks , he worked in the commercial insurance industry in both Boston and Minneapolis . It was his brother Patrick Sweeney, ten years Jim's senior, who was able to lure him back to the region.
"Patrick was involved with Weather Modification, Inc. since college," Jim explains. "He was a radar and electrical technician." Patrick bought into the company and after the founder's retirement in the early ’90s, he bought out the remaining stock and convinced Jim to return to North Dakota .
WMI has been performing cloud seeding and atmospheric research around the world since the 1960s. It was originally based in Western North Dakota, but Pat decided to move it back to Fargo and build a facility at Hector International Airport to house this company and a new FBO.
"The Red River Valley has done a great job of expanding its business mix," Jim relates. "This is a city that's prosperous and progressive from an economic standpoint."
RIPE FOR DEVELOPMENT
In 1993, the Sweeneys began working with the airport authority to develop what is now called the North General Aviation Area, which according to Jim, was already part of the airport's master plan. The airport built a new ramp and in 1995, Fargo Jet Center and Weather Modification, Inc. opened the doors of their new facility.
There was another FBO on the south end of the field which Jim says was operating out of WWII hangars and buildings. "They didn't know what a red carpet was." Upon announcement of Sweeney's plan, the south field FBO jumped into the picture and built a larger, more elaborate facility next door to the Fargo Jet Center , according to Sweeney.
"We competed head to head with them for a little over five years," says Jim. "Gradually, over that five-year period, we started acquiring more and more market share and in December ’01 we got a phone call from the owner and he said he'd like to sell everything."
Fargo Jet Center subsequently purchased all of the assets of the competing FBO, including buildings, aircraft, and other equipment. Along with the purchase came Waypoint Avionics, which has bases at Fargo and Bismarck.
"The market in Fargo is not big enough for two FBOs to operate," Jim says. "But you won't find the facilities we have here at any other airport of our size. The entire complex that we own and operate today is a real asset to the community."
The Sweeneys own or lease more than 170,000 square feet of buildings at the airport, with the average lease being 20 years in length. Jim explains there are multiple leases, depending on when they were entered into, but he says they are looking into bringing them all under one lease. "It would give us the stability and ability to plan ahead and know that we're going to have these buildings."
The new members are Bob Marinace, Alfred G. Peterson, and Jim Sweeney.
Fargo Jet Center is North Dakota’s largest private aviation operation with owned and leased facilities consisting of more than 200,000 total square feet.
Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport location voted #3 U.S. FBO, #1 Southeast U.S. FBO and #2 Star FBO in the FltPlan.com 2011 Pilots’ Choice Survey.