If it wasn't for business aviation, the Berry Companies wouldn't be the company it is today.
"We wouldn't be nearly as far flung," Walter Berry, president, said of the Wichita-based company's eight divisions and 29 locations in six states -- Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Texas.
"We wouldn't have looked at opportunities as far away.?... We'd be a lot smaller."
Walter and his father, company chairman Fred Berry, both pilots, have used a variety of airplanes over the years to fly themselves and staff members to their growing number of sites.
Last year, the company moved up from a Socata TBM 700 turboprop to a faster, higher-flying Cessna Citation Mustang light business jet.
Company officials say they make about 75 business trips a year.
The plane can leave Jabara Airport early in the morning, for example, fly to Garden City for meetings, over mountains for meetings in Grand Junction, Colo., back across the Continental Divide to Cheyenne, Wyo., and then to Denver-- all in a day. They then hold meetings again the next day.
"Commercially, you couldn't do that," Walter Berry said.
Berry is one of a multitude of Wichita-area and Kansas businesses -- car dealers, bankers, manufacturers, oil companies, health professionals and others -- who rely on business aviation.
Last month, a study of U.S. Standard & Poor's 500 companies by NEXA Advisors concluded that companies that used business aviation during the economic downturn -- from 2007 to 2011 -- outperformed competitors that did not.
The companies had better profits, created more jobs and were among the best managed companies in the U.S., according to the research, which was sponsored by the aviation industry.
The findings also indicated that companies using business aviation recovered from revenue setbacks more quickly and were more likely to grow their workforce.
Past studies looking at smaller companies showed similar results, said Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association, which sponsored the study along with Bombardier Aerospace and Embraer.
"In Wichita, everybody knows that business airplanes represent good manufacturing jobs," Bolen said. "But they're also critical to companies all over the United States."
Business aviation provides a valuable tool and a competitive edge, he said.
"Companies that use business airplanes are outperforming their competitors in the same industry that do not use the airplanes," Bolen said. "That's the bottom line."
The number of Fortune 500 companies relying on business aviation has risen in the past four years, Bolen said.
"At times of economic pressure, companies need to be efficient and proactive," Bolen said.
At Berry Companies, the use of an airplane "allows us to get out with our people, and we think that's important," Walter Berry said. The Wichita office is the administrative group for the various divisions and provides the accounting, processing, payroll, insurance, advertising and financial services.
The ability to visit multiple locations in a day and get employees home at night has value, Berry said.
And "If a meeting runs over, I have the keys in my pocket," he said.
Walter Berry, with more than 2,700 flight hours, does most of the flying. Fred Berry no longer flies.
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