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2014 North Dakota Small Business Person of the Year

Dean Atchison, Spectrum Aeromed, has been selected as the U.S. Small Business Administration's 2014 North Dakota Small Business Person of the Year. This annual award recognizes exceptional business owners who demonstrate the entrepreneurial spirit in starting and growing a successful business. Atchison was selected following a statewide competition.

The air ambulance industry is one that typically flies under the radar, with few competitors and complex products. Spectrum Aeromed spent sixteen years trying to establish itself in that market but ended up struggling financially and facing bankruptcy. Seeing a challenge worthy of leaving his established career in banking, Dean Atchison decided to acquire the company in mid-2007 with high hopes to improve their design and manufacturing of customized air ambulance medical interiors. He knew substantial changes would need to be made, and started with the vision to be the best in class and save lives. He wanted to move the company from selling fairly basic systems to begin creating “solutions” for the customer. This message was embraced by the team, who were all encouraged to think outside of the box. It was during this time that Dean and various team members reached out to the ND SBDC for assistance with budgeting, contracting and exporting.

Dean’s background, and his willingness to reach out, allowed him to develop a strategy to better manage and generate cash flow. Since the first full year of his ownership, sales have increased an impressive 164%. During this same period, the number of units sold has more than tripled. These trends are the result of expanding both geographically as well as increasing the overall customer base. In 2008 the business was moved from rural Minnesota to Fargo, North Dakota to both use a state-of-the-art facility at the Fargo airport and also to take advantage of the workforce pool. Over the past six years the company added nine full-time and five part-time for a current total of 26 full-time employees and 7 part-time employees. 

Spectrum Aeromed was recently listed on the Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Companies for the third consecutive year. It moved up on the list with three-year revenue growth of 213%, and is ranked number in the top 100 in the State of North Dakota and number 44 in the top 100 manufacturing companies. Dean’s commitment to the company extends to the greater community as well, serving as Chair of the Board of Trustees for United Way of Cass County since 2010, as well as supporting March of Dimes and the Medevac Foundation International.

Atchison, along with other top entrepreneurs from across the nation, will be honored at the SBA's National Small Business Week events, May 15-16, in Washington, D.C.