Erickson looks to China to save IPO

Erickson looks to China to save IPO

0311_Erickson
Erickson Air-Crane provides services and maintenance for heavy-lift helicopters. It also makes helicopters in Oregon.
Erickson Air-Crane is hoping that a key deal to ship five helicopters made in Oregon to China will rescue its bid to become the state’s first business to go public through an initial public offering since 2004.

Erickson filed for a $75 million IPO in May 2010. But its revenues have been shrinking rather than growing in recent years, from $142 million in 2007 to $137 million in 2008, to $114 million in 2009. The company provides services and maintenance for heavy-lift helicopters used for logging, construction and firefighting. It has subsidiaries in Italy, Canada and Malaysia and seasonal contracts in Australia and Greece. It also manufactures helicopters in Oregon, but not many of them — selling just nine since 2002 and none in 2010.

Between falling revenues and heavy borrowing, Erickson had $88 million in debts as of Sept. 30, 2010. “We anticipate that we will not be in compliance with certain financial debt covenants,” the company wrote in a Dec. 27 SEC filing.

So landing an agreement to export five helicopters to China was a huge deal. Erickson entered into a non-binding agreement in December with China Taicang Aircrane, a subsidiary of Wan Yu Industries Groups. The White House mentioned the deal in a Jan. 19 document stressing the economic importance of exports to China. Erickson officials could not comment because of the mandatory “quiet period” that accompanies IPOs, to avoid inflating the stock price with hype.

If the deal goes through, it will bring new life to Erickson’s Central Point operation, where most of the company’s 700 employees work. (The company moved its headquarters from Southern Oregon to Portland prior to filing for an IPO.) But future manufacturing may take place in China instead of Oregon. One element of the deal outlined in SEC documents calls for “cooperation with and support of Taicang in developing the capabilities and facilities required for the manufacture, marketing and support of the Aircrane in China.”

Erickson is one of two Oregon-based companies wading through the complex process of going public since filing last May. The other is the Portland-based IT security and compliance business Tripwire. In contrast to Erickson’s falling fortunes in recent years, Tripwire has been growing revenues by more than 20% per year and has over 5,600 customers in 89 countries. Tripwire is also restricted from commenting during its quiet period.

The last two companies to complete successful IPOs in Oregon were Portland-based restaurateur McCormick & Schmick’s and Beaverton-based Cascade Microtech. Both went public in 2004.

BEN JACKLET