Bemidji, Min. – After a fatal plane crash, every day is thanks to Tony and Sharon Carr. But this year they are also grateful for a new city, a new soon-to-be home and a rehabilitation program that helped make it through.
“We’re always grateful,” said Sharon Carr, who grew up in Bemidji. “It is definitely fun to be back home. There is no place like Bemidji.”
The Carers are one of nearly two dozen families who have taken advantage of Greater Bemidji’s 218 Relocate program, which provides incentives to move to Bemidji and work remotely. Tony is a geospatial technician for Boeing, creating flight charts for commercial airline pilots. They moved from Denver with their two young daughters in June, and are living with Sharon’s parents until December 14 when they move into their new home.
When Tony learned about the 218 relocate, he did a double-take.
“That was what I was looking for,” Tony said. “My company wasn’t going to reimburse, because it was an optional step. I saw an ad for it on TV and said, ‘Was this ad made for me? Was it targeted towards Tony Carr?’ Because it feels perfect when you want to help people who are able to telecommute to get to the Bemidji area. There was also the attraction of the fiber-optic network.”
love of flying
Tony grew up in Houston and became interested in aviation at a young age.
He attended Oklahoma State University and earned a degree in Aviation Science while working as a flight instructor. After graduating in 2008, he was a flight operations trainee for Mesaba Airlines, which flew to Bemidji. That’s when he met Sharon.
“He got the jump seat pass on the Bemidji flight,” she recalled. “For whatever reason, he wanted to see more of Minnesota.”
Sharon was at McDonald’s on leave from work. Tony was born in the same place.
“He bumped into me and spilled a drink on me,” she said. Then he asked for her phone number. He did not say. Then he asked for his email address.
“He said, ‘I just email you. So if you don’t like me, you don’t have to reply.’ I soon realized he was such a good writer. So it started as an email and went from there.
Tony left Mesaba that summer and returned to Oklahoma State for flight instruction. For the next two years, they had a long distance relationship, in Bemidji and in Oklahoma.
moving east, avoiding an accident
Tony got his first full-time job in 2011 as a pilot, delivering cargo for Airnet Systems, a subsidiary of FedEx. Based in Richmond, VA, he made overnight flights up and down the East Coast. Sharon joined him in Virginia, and the couple set the wedding date for December 2011.
Everything changed on April 11 of the same year.
Tony’s flight was on its way to Charlotte, NC when it was taking off from Richmond International Airport, when one of its engines shut down. The plane crashed back over the runway. He had fainted and suffered burns over 60 percent of his body.
Airport fire personnel were able to get to Tony quickly. He was taken to the burn unit at Virginia Commonwealth University Hospital. He was kept there for a few months in a medically induced coma. It was a few more months before he went home.
For the next three years, Tony endured about 70 surgeries and all forms of physical and occupational therapy.
Sharon takes care of Tony, taking him to and from appointments and surgeries. They changed their wedding plans and got married on September 10, 2011, in Virginia.
“It was on 9-10-11, that’s how you can never forget it,” Sharon said.
deciding what’s next
Tony thought he would never be a pilot again, but in 2014 it was time to start thinking about going back to work.
“I was looking for something where I could be in aviation but not really still working as a pilot,” he said. He found the job of compiling aeronautical data from different countries and put it together. That chart and data set pilots reference when they are in the cockpit. It is based in Denver.
His schedule was three days a week at office and two days at home. When the pandemic struck, it turned into remote work permanently.
“It opened the door to a whole new thought process,” he said. During the summer of 2020, he went to Bemidji for a one-of-a-kind test run.
“I plugged in and did my job, and we were saying this is something that could work for us,” he said.
Bemidji’s cold climate makes things easier for Tony, whose multiple skin grafts make him susceptible to both hot and cold temperatures. He explained that he could always wear more clothes in the cold, but not much defense against the heat. Then there were the trials of living in the city, such as the traffic and high cost of living that was wearing off on the couple.
He made a formal request at work to move to Minnesota. He and Sharon, along with their daughters Loralie, 7, and Madeline, 4, relocated to Bemidji in June of this year. 218 The Relocate Program reimburses the growing expenses of the carriers.
Now her eldest daughter is enrolled in Northern Elementary, the same school her mother attended. And Tony continues his same work.
“It turned out great,” Tony said. “I think Bemidji is in a really exciting place. … As telecommuting becomes more common, I think the 218 relocating program is going to be very important.
“If people are trying to choose between a few cities, but it’s going to cost them several thousand dollars to help with this move, that’s definitely going to be a positive that potentially gives them that opportunity.” direction. It is paying off for both the city and its beneficiaries.”
move more on 218
The 218 Relocate Program was created by Greater Bemidji Economic Development to attract professionals to the community. The program has attracted over 20 new individuals and families to the Bemidji area.
The program provides the following benefits to those who perform most of their employment duties remotely from a home office or co-working space:
- Up to $2,500 in reimbursed moving expenses and/or qualified telecommunications expenses not already covered by the employer/company.
- A one-year membership to the Launchpad co-working space in the historic Mayflower Building (worth $1,500).
- Free access to the Community Concierge Program to connect individuals and their families to the community.
- Teleworking support and tools through effective remote work.
- One-year associate level membership to the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce (worth $335).