CHISHOLM — The woman who helped Sen. Amy Klobuchar book her plane seats a few months ago via phone got to shake her hand in person Wednesday.

Klobuchar paid a visit to the Delta Reservations Center in Chisholm. She toured the facility and met with staff to review Delta’s plans to renovate and modernize the ticket sales call center.

In November, the Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board approved a $5.9 million direct loan with a 12-year term to “refresh” its 40,000 square foot facility.

The expansion is anticipated to increase the workforce there to 525. Right now, they have 460 employees, including two new classes that began in January and March, said Delta Associate/Customer Engagement Director Tony Zupancich.

The new positions will offer wages ranging from $22,000 to $48,000 a year, plus benefits.

Although still in the planning stages, Zupancich said Delta has begun discussions with the architectural firm. The 18-month project will get underway with construction to the interior beginning in December and some exterior work in late summer into fall.

“We are not expanding the footprint, but simply refreshing our facility,” said Zupancich. “It was designed for a time back in the 1990s, and things are a lot different today. We have a lot of space that can re-utilize and actually bring more employees in here.”

The additional employees would be brought on following the renovation.

For the existing employees, it will mean “a much better work environment than we have today,” he said.

“It will be clean, be new and allow us to bring in areas of what we call ‘collaboration areas or huddle areas,” added Zupancich. “It will make it much more comfortable, more friendly work environment that’s less sterile than it has been in the past. We’re trying to bring in that team atmosphere that we are so well known for, Team IRC, and to elaborate and expand on that.”

The friendliness of the current work environment was one of the things that Klobuchar took note of.

“I thought it (the facility) was beautiful, and what I noticed is that the people here are friendly and seem to enjoy their co-workers,” she said. “I think sometimes we think that people are isolated, but the fact the everyone’s first name is on everything shows that people clearly have fun and know each other. That’s an important part of morale. Because they deal with customers who aren’t always happy and you have to have be positive with customers, having a positive attitude in the call center really contributes to that.”

Klobuchar called the call center “one of the best in the world,” while also noting it has received several awards.

“When you do good work, you get more good work,” she said. “That’s what it’s about — expanding this call center and putting these jobs right here on the Iron Range and right here in America.”

Seeing the reservationists work first-hand shed light on the many stories she said she’s heard from travelers, and gave her unique insight on what they encounter from customers.

“Being able to hear some of them work, patiently listening to their customers and how complicated it has gotten with all different types of fares and flights all over the world …,” she said. “They have to have that kind of knowledge to help customers. It’s important. … If you’re not able to help customers, you don’t get the business and we want to have the business for an American airline.”

Klobuchar said issues during the visit included competing airlines, airlines in foreign countries that have unfair advantages, the language and transparency in bills that explain what customers are charged and why, and finding persons to apply for the upcoming hires.

“We know that employment is getting better up here, but we want to make sure we have the people to fill the jobs,” she said “That means all kinds of things that mayors have to deal with — from housing to good roads to rail that works to get things to market. We want to make it the best possible situation up here as we add more employees so people come here or come back here to work these jobs.”

Zupancich said hiring at Delta has gone fine to this point, but added that they do worry about it on occasion.

Although Delta remains one of the largest, private employers on the Iron Range, it’s been many years since it was at its peak. It was prior to 2000 — less than five years after opening in 1996 — that the reservation hit its high of 595 employees.

Increasing to 525 employees with the expansion will help them get closer.

“It’s exciting for us to get back to where we were prior to 9/11,” said Zupancich.