Chuck Surack saves Enstrom Helicopter from liquidation

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“They, like everyone else, had problems during the COVID era and had to reorganize or close their businesses,” Von Eitzen said. “They applied for Chapter 7, which is a full liquidation, but the value of this entity was a pending transaction.”

Since its founding in 1957 by Rudy Enstrom, the company has manufactured and serviced thousands of helicopters designed for recreational travel and training. Its manufacturing process and parts are specific to Enstrom and have little value without the company’s existence.

The bankruptcy took place in February without a bidder and an auction was held on March 2. The winning bidder with a bid of $10.5 million was MidTex Aviation LLC.

“Everyone would prefer the buyer to come and buy almost all of the assets, because that’s obviously better for the city and the employees,” Von Eitzen said.

But MidTex had a problem. He couldn’t find the funding. Surack said MidTex owner Kevin Griffin lost his investor and approached Surack.

Surack, whose portfolio already includes three airlines, was interested in Enstrom but was not partnering with Griffin, so he offered to take over the business. Griffin walked away from the purchase agreement earlier this month and Surack became the new owner.

The process, while unusual, ended ideally, Von Eitzen said.

“That hasn’t happened in my 17 years as a bankruptcy attorney,” she said.

Saving businesses is nothing new for Surack, although he admits reviving a manufacturer in remote UP will be a unique challenge. In general, there seems to be a curious pull to save small-town manufacturing in the upper half of Michigan (like Stormy Kromer).

“It’s pretty far up there, but they’ve been doing it since 1957, so it’s generations old now,” Surack said. “I knew I could go back – just a matter of applying the principles and working out the details. I was very confident that I could save the company.”

The business reopened last week with about 15 management staff, Surack said, and the next step is to bring the rest back. He hopes for 50 in the next few weeks.

Surack said it would likely take a $7-8 million investment the first year, and maybe another $6 million the following year, to help get Enstrom off the ground again.

“Let’s walk before we run, but we have to start making parts,” Surack said.

After that, he said the goal was to build 24 helicopters next year. The company will continue to target hobbyists, leisure travelers and foreign armies, who use the easy-to-use helicopters for training.

“Filling them is not the problem, we just have to get them produced,” he said.

Business will be the top priority, Surack said, and he expects to be in Menominee a few days a month. Surack said he owned a home in Petoskey but had no other business activities or other state ties.

“We’re going to go back to zero where we make them again, and then we’re going to get to where we make them newer, better, prettier,” he said.

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