Bus carrier on path to profitability

Freeman Bus Corp. lost its contract with the Watertown City School District two years ago. Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — The new owner of the Freeman Bus Corp. says he’s confident his company is back on the road for success.

New owner Leif E. Petterson, president of the company, said Wednesday the financially-strapped Freeman Bus needs just a couple of months to get over the hump and become profitable again.

Two years ago, the company lost its decades- old contract with the Watertown City School District, causing it to lose $500,000 in 2019. But the company is growing, with the addition of a new taxicab company and expanding into other components of the transportation industry.

“We’re doing well,” Mr. Petterson said.

He made a presentation on Wednesday morning to the Watertown Local Development Corp.’s revolving loan fund committee about his plans for the company.

On Wednesday, the loan committee recommended a $100,000 loan to the company for working capital and to help with a cash flow issue that Mr. Petterson believes will be straightened out after March. The local development corporation’s full board is expected to consider the loan next Thursday.

Mr. Petterson said the new taxicab company — with nine vehicles that went on the road in October — already has been a success. The company, which he bought last year, soon will be adding a medical transport division that would lead to 100 fares a day for the taxis.

The company is in negotiations with the Samaritan Medical Center to provide transportation for discharged hospital patients. He’s awaiting approval from the state Department of Motor Vehicles that would allow the company to use its 50-bay bus garage on Marble Street as a maintenance repair shop, he told committee members.

By offering the different services, revenues will increase in several areas, making the business profitable, he said.

“We’re going to do it,” he said. “We’ll be here for a long time.”

The company still operates the Clarence Henry Coach charter bus company and hopes to increase business with Jefferson Community College and Fort Drum. He hopes to expand the taxicab business into St. Lawrence and Lewis counties.

In the past year, the company added 40 jobs and now has a workforce of 60.

Mr. Petterson, who has 35 years of experience consulting with bus and motorcoach companies, including with the corporation, purchased Freeman Bus Corp., Robert C. Freeman III, whose family ran it for decades.

Mr. Petterson also owns Norfe Systems, Guilford, Conn., which focuses on computer-based commercial databases designed for bus and motorcoach companies.

Watertown Trust CEO Donald W. Rutherford thinks the company is turning things around.

“With 60 jobs on line, this is a reasonable risk,” he said, adding that he was hesitant at first to recommend it.

Committee member Michael Pierce also supported the loan, adding that the loss of the company and its jobs would have an impact on Watertown.

The loan with local development corporation, also known as the Watertown Trust, and another $100,000 loan from the Watertown Savings Bank will get the company back in the red once again, Mr. Petterson said.

The Watertown Trust loan will be for five years and carry 3 percent interest. The company will receive the $200,000 from the Watertown Trust and the bank in two phases.

Until now, Mr. Petterson has never owned a bus company himself. He credited his employees for getting the company back on track.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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