FAIRMONT - Nearly 40 candidates applied to be Fairmont's new airport manager, with the position going to someone who has the winning combination of the right educational background, on-the-job experience, and local connections.
In his second week on the job, Lee Steinkamp is still getting a feel for the airport and the community, but he has a starting advantage.
"I've had an interest in aviation since I was really young," he said.
The 31-year-old Ankeny, Iowa, native has been working in the field for 15-some years, from his humble beginnings mowing the lawn at his hometown airport. He was 16 years old, and it was his first job, but he soon moved up to fueling and handling aircraft.
Steinkamp continued to work at the airport after he graduated from high school. By the time he completed his general education credits at a nearby community college, he had also succeeded in earning his pilot's license.
He had no doubt that aviation was the career for him.
As a student at the University of Dubuque, he tackled the dual degrees of aviation management and flight operations, and upon graduating returned to his hometown to manage the Ankeny airport. During this time he also met his future wife: Kaylynn Origer, a Fairmont High School graduate.
The two moved to Rochester, where Kaylynn worked as a physician assistant at Mayo Clinic, and Steinkamp worked at Signature Flight Support.
The two were married October 2011, and they stayed in Rochester two-plus years. But they were missing something.
"She wanted to get closer to home," Steinkamp said.
That's when the position opened at Fairmont Municipal Airport.
Previously, the airport manager/fixed-base operator was an independent contractor, but this year Fairmont City Council decided to change that model. The airport manager is now for the first time a city employee position, under the supervision of Public Works Director Troy Nemmers.
"Lee's excellent qualifications and his family ties to the area all factored into his hiring," Nemmers said. "I am glad that we were able to attract a young couple to the community, and I look forward to his new perspective managing the city's airport."
The status quo isn't enough for Fairmont City Council, which has charged the new hire with making the airport grow.
Steinkamp is first getting to know the lay of the land, before launching into research and recruitment mode to find a fixed-base operator. Having someone on hand to offer flight instruction, charter aircrafts, or maintain aviation equipment could go far in attracting new clientele to the airport.
It's a big job, and Steinkamp is starting with public relations.
"We already have a really nice airport here. We need to play that up," he said, listing off amenities like the newly reconstructed runways and resurfaced ramp, and the hangars, maintenance and terminal buildings.
"We're lucky to have all this here at the airport," he said.
Steinkamp is also responsible for making sure day-to-day operations are running smoothly, from fueling and servicing planes, to clearing runways of snow and debris, to keeping the place looking clean and attractive to local and out-of-town visitors.
"I'd like to do a little facelift on the main terminal," he said, referring to the aging paint, carpet and furniture.
Other duties include making sure the airport meets all state and federal rules, keeping the city council and airport advisory board updated on airport activity, and working with engineers and state officials for airport improvement projects.
All these responsibilities need to be performed with a friendly smile, since Steinkamp is the official town greeter for those people entering Fairmont via its airport.
Steinkamp says the aviation community and the community at large have done a great job making him feel welcome.
"The interim managers have been very supportive, and I look forward to continue working with them," he said, referring to the four-man team of Mark Craven, Verlus Burkhart, Dennis Thate and Homer Scott, who together managed the airport since October, while the city sought out an airport manager.
"Everyone that I have met in the community and at the airport has been very supportive and receptive. I have received a lot of positive feedback," Steinkamp said. "I want to thank the community for the warm welcome and continued support."