Jets, Cars and Canada: All three spike the rpms of Arcadia residents Glenn and Karen Williamson. Their fifth Wings & Wheels Scottsdale event, sponsored by the Canada Arizona Business Council, is March 2, 2024. If you are a jet owner, consider flying, driving, or even ice skating, to the Scottsdale Airpark if doing business with the state’s top foreign investor is powerful inspiration.
In 2016, Canadian native and CABC founder Glenn Williamson, invited a few of his Canadian friends with jets hangered at Scottsdale Airpark and homes in Arizona to gather at an FBO for wine and cheese.
Canadian snowbirds and business owners started their engines. “Jet owners and jet aficionados told their friends, and the OEMs and luxury purveyors began calling,” he says, noting that 200 jet owners with six aircraft and charter clients responded for the inaugural event. “It was an opportunity for them to meet and talk with each other,” he says.
“From that very first party, Wings & Wheels Scottsdale has grown into the largest private jet event in North America,” adds his wife, Karen, Wings & Wheels executive director. Next year’s event is March 2 at Atlantic Aviation’s newest luxury hangars adjacent to the runways.
The event welcomed 1,000 the following year; the group enjoyed about nine planes, including a magnificent Global 6000 compliments of sponsor Bombardier. In 2019, the Williamsons capped the event at 700 to maintain intimacy; guests and sponsors brought 15 planes. And, in 2020, with the event again maxed at 700, Wings & Wheels hosted 21 aircraft. The sleek Embraer Praetor 600 was a crowd favorite, she recalls.
The guests at that most recent event were 69% American, 30% Canadian and 1% Mexican, according to CABC totals. They predominantly represented the industrial sectors of real estate development, petroleum, automotive and finance. The 2021, 2022, and 2023 events were not held because of the pandemic.
“Wings & Wheels Scottsdale is an exclusive yet highly social gathering of jets, their passionate owners and extraordinary cars,” explains Glenn, who founded the 100-member 501(c) 6 CABC in 2003 to strengthen the longstanding economic ties of Canada and Arizona. The Williamsons’ inspiration for the intimate get-together is the Naples Winter Wine Festival and Concorso d’ Eleganza Villa d’ Este.
“It’s a bespoke cocktail party held next to an active runway surrounded by private jets, exotic cars and luxury lifestyle brands. Like every memorable cocktail party, the food and spirits offered by our returning partner, Republic National Distributing Company (RNDC), are beyond premium.”
The vice president of sales for the Phoenix-based company, Michael Vadney, will be attending. One of the nation’s leading wholesale beverage alcohol distributors RNDC-USA operates in 38 states. “Wing’s & Wheels is a very exclusive event that allows us to showcase luxury items and experiences,” he says. He’ll be bringing, among other spirits, superlative Remy-Cointreau Louis XIII cognac.
“This wonderful event has successfully brought together people who offer 1-percenter items, whether it’s art, liquor and wines, outfits, travel such as private islands, luxury and performance cars, jewelry, wine, the whole top-of-the line lifestyle,” says Frank Aazami, principal of the Private Client Group at Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty in Scottsdale, an event sponsor. “Planes are the common ground; this event puts wings on all of the products showcased there.”
Northern Bucks Fly South
Glenn’s family have been eight generations in Canada; most recently they have been involved with banking in Quebec. Because of career and his enjoyment of Arizona, he permanently moved here in 1987. He and Karen met in 1994, introduced by mutual friends at the old Baby Kay’s restaurant in Scottsdale.
Since the 1980s, he has facilitated Canadian investment in Arizona; they brought money, they snowbirded, they moved here. First, the western provinces, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, and British Columbia, rich in oil resources, found Arizona a superb investment location as well as an affordable nearby second or third home. Then, Canada as a whole discovered the state: new money from the old-money eastern and maritime provinces such as Ontario and Quebec as well as from newcomers Toronto and Vancouver.
Canadians built homes, residential developments, shopping centers. They loved the warm desert, the casual lifestyle, the people. But Williamson noticed that so many who came here on a seasonal basis or permanently would cocoon; they’d fly their jets in, most often to Scottsdale Airpark, then drive to their homes, often in north Scottsdale, to DC Ranch, Desert Mountain, Silverleaf, Ancala, Pinnacle Peak, Troon, Boulders and other luxury communities.
Most often, although sharing Canadian roots, the countrymen and -women didn’t know each other. They came and went, Arizona to Canada and back. In this way, they didn’t maximize their Arizona connections, and the state was also losing development opportunities. “They’d drive straight to their house, play golf and not interact with the economic development community,” he explains.
“Jets are the nexus of ultra-high net worth individuals, who make cross border business and are the decision-makers,” Karen explains, noting that the CABC limits membership to about 100. Guests are UUHNW, UHNW and VHNW individuals, averaging $200 million net worth. They are mostly couples, averaging in age from 45 to 65. About 45% own jets, 25% are considered extreme charter members and 99% own luxury cars. And, approximately 75% are the founder, CEO or president of the company represented, according to CABC records.
“While these are eye-popping demographics, what I truly love is that this is a jet-crazy crowd and they spend the evening enjoying an inside look at every aircraft,” says Glenn. “We have pilots, crew and sales professionals at each airstair waiting to show off the plane and answer operational questions.”
Karen adds: “Our event is an opportunity to meet those decision-makers and entice them to lay down business roots in Arizona. We say that we have 1 degree of separation between Arizona decision-makers and Canadian decision-makers.”
Many of these people were also luxury and performance car fans. So the triumvirate is a natural: Canada, jets, luxury vehicles. “We bring wealth together to help Arizona,” she adds.
Even knowledgeable businesspeople may be surprised about the economic impacts. For more than 30 years, Canada has been first in foreign direct investment into Arizona. Every year, two million Canadian tourists and Canadian Snowbirds visit Arizona, spending $2.5 billion, Glenn says, citing CABC 2020 figures. Canadians own or rent 100,000 homes here.
Every year, Canadians represent 87% of the international landings at Scottsdale airpark. Twenty years ago, there were 30 to 40 weekly commercial nonstop flights to and from Canadian cities and Arizona. Now, 210 nonstop flights are scheduled every week between the two countries, he says.
The five largest Canadian banks and many of the massive Canadian pension funds have Arizona presences. They put their money to work at higher returns here than in Canada, he says. Circle K is owned by a Canadian company, as are Nordstrom, Saks and Colliers, and 500 Canadian-owned or managed companies are in Arizona — far more than any other country. Glenn: “Canada loves Arizona.”
“Arizona enjoys a mutually-beneficial relationship with Canada, and Wings and Wheels is a key event for continuing to build that relationship with Canadian business leaders,” says Sandra Watson, executive director of the Arizona Commerce Authority, the economic development department for Arizona. In 2022, Canada was one of Arizona’s top trading partners, ranking second for exports and third for imports at $2.6 billion each, she says, citing ACA records.
She has attended all of the events and plans to continue that presence in March. She explains that recent expansions of Canadian firms have included Li-Cycle, XNRGY, Exro Technologies and APEL Extrusions. From 2016-2022, 23 foreign direct investment projects were facilitated by ACA from Canada into Arizona, representing significant capital investment and more than 1,000 projected new jobs.
“The Canadian Arizona Business Council’s efforts are vital to continuing to build relationships with Canadian business leaders and to showcase Arizona’s international attractiveness, while highlighting our global competitiveness as a destination for high-growth industries, including aerospace leaders such as Raytheon, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Gulfstream, Bombardier and more,” she says.
CABC member Mike Patterson is the attorney for Wings & Wheels. For event sponsor Spencer Fane LLP in Phoenix he represents aviation and aerospace clients, many of whom he has introduced to the event. “This is the most unique and premiere aviation event of its kind in North America,” he says. “All of the attendees are extremely high-net-worth jet owners, so this is a prime opportunity for sponsors and OEMs like Gulf Stream and Bombardier to show their latest aircraft and for attendees to see a collection of magnificent autos, jewels and other luxuries.”
Gulfstream Aerospace, one of the world’s leading corporate jet manufacturers, is the event’s Presenting Sponsor. “Gulfstream’s ‘family’ of business aircraft is venerated for its impeccable engineering, innovation and stellar interiors,” Karen says. “We’ll be inviting Gulfstream owners from the western U.S. and Canada. In fact, each of our partners will invite their preferred customers and clients.”
Another event sponsor, APEX Motor Club, “Where Performance Meets the Road,” coordinates the “wheels” component of the event, with its members arriving in vintage INDY cars, Porsches, McLarens, Aston Martins, Ferraris and other marques. APEX, a premier motorsports country club, is in Maricopa, about 40 minutes from Scottsdale Airport.
Its president and co-founder, Jason Plotke, has been attending the event from the first. “The combination of aircraft and automobiles is unique to Scottsdale, and the growth of the show over the years makes it even more intriguing. Apex Motor Club and Wings & Wheels not only share a passion in transportation vehicles but also a similar customer base. Typically, automotive aficionados have an affinity for aircraft and vice versa. That synergy is enjoyed both ways!”
Karen notes that Sanderson Lincoln Black Label, the top Lincoln Black Label dealership in the U.S., also recognizes this affinity; their Black Label luxury models will be on display next to every jet.
The couple personally make no money on the event. “Our hearts and our efforts are with the men, women and families of Luke Air Force Base. For many, many years we have supported LAFB through the Fighter Country Partnership,” she says.
All proceeds after expenses and all raffle proceeds will be donated toward renovating the original circa 1979 kitchen in the Child Development Center on base. Each day the children of the service members, 6 months to 5 years, attend educational day care staffed by early childhood education professionals. The CDC serves 900-plus healthy meals per day to the children from a dated kitchen, so the Williamsons ask the guests of Wings & Wheels to bring generous hearts and credit cards to the event for the charity raffle.
This year the invite-only event expects 700 guests and 20-plus aircraft and more than 40 exotic cars in 100,000 square feet of aviation space. Tickets are not available for purchase, and invitations are reserved for CABC members and jet owners. Says Glenn, “Think of Wings & Wheels Scottsdale as your personal Paris Air Show — only more elegant and intimate on a warm March night under a Sonoran Desert sunset.”
Attendees may purchase a variety of partnership opportunities, advertising and other recognitions. Contact Karen Williamson, firstname.lastname@example.org and see canaz.net for more information.