January 18, 2012 By: By Candace Renalls
The announcement Monday that Alan Klapmeier’s Kestrel Aircraft Co. will build its manufacturing plant in Superior has some thinking the Twin Ports could become an aviation hub. Klapmeier, co-founder and former CEO of Duluth-based Cirrus Aircraft, says his new company will create hundreds of jobs in Superior building a propeller plane that can move six or more people as quickly as a small jet but with less fuel consumption and greater flexibility.
With Cirrus in Duluth and Kestrel in Superior, the Twin Ports will be a two-airplane manufacturing community, boosting business for local suppliers and creating hundreds of jobs that will help the local economy grow.
“We are positioning ourselves as a major center for manufacturing general aviation aircraft,” said Rob West, CEO of the Area Partnership for Economic Development. “It really puts this region, the Twin Ports, on the general aviation map.”
Klapmeier, who co-founded Cirrus in the 1990s, knows what he’s doing by establishing another manufacturing plant in the Twin Ports, says Drew Digby, regional labor market analyst for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
“Klapmeier knew the talent base was available here,” Digby said. “He already started one successful business here.”
But the impact is bigger than jobs, he says.
“If all the plans come through, it will be fantastic for this area and region,” he said, “because we’ll have a critical mass of aviation activities going that will make people excited about all that’s going on.”
Suppliers to the industry would also benefit. Northstar Aerospace in Duluth, which makes aircraft components, is among the local Cirrus suppliers that would also seek Kestrel as a customer.
“We would hope they would consider us for one of their preferred suppliers,” said Kevin Snyder, Northstar’s executive vice president. Adding Kestrel as a customer would boost Northstar’s numbers, which are slowly recovering from the recession, he said.
Two airplane manufacturers operating in the Twin Ports will spur even more support businesses like Northstar, said Tony Barrett, economist at the College of St. Scholastica. And those suppliers are more likely to locate locally to minimize transportation costs, he said.
West noted that Cirrus was an upstart aircraft manufacturer when it started with its SR20 prototype in 1998. But in less than 15 years, it became the largest manufacturer of four-seat, single-engine, fixed-wing airplanes in the world, surpassing Cessna, Piper and Beechcraft, which had been battling it out for years.
“It was an amazing accomplishment,” West said of Cirrus.
Now comes Klapmeier with his new company and plans to build a plant in Superior that could create hundreds of jobs. Add to that the possibility that AAR Aircraft Services will move into the former Northwest Airlines aircraft maintenance base in Duluth and create up to 250 jobs. Meanwhile, Duluth has an Air National Guard Base, the Duluth international Airport is getting a new, modern terminal and three commercial airlines now fly out of Duluth to six destinations.
“We’re really getting ourselves to be taken seriously as a hub for commercial and, in particular, general aviation,” West said.
Even Cirrus Vice President Bill King was positive.
“The reality of it is, business development is good for business,” he said. “Business expansion and growth and economic development is just plain good for the community. We are supportive.”
Barrett doesn’t see Kestrel’s eight-seat single-engine turboprop competing directly with Cirrus, which makes smaller personal aircraft.
“They’re making a different kind of plane,” Barrett said. “It seems like they’re aiming for a different kind of market.”
But are there enough skilled workers to go around?
Cirrus never had trouble finding a talented labor force, both Digby and King say.
An aviation job fair held in August to prove to AAR that they could find the skilled workers they need in Duluth resulted in more than 400 people turning out in person and 768 submitted resumes, West said.
“That alone would indicate that we would be able to attract good, qualified workers to meet all the needs,” he said.
Many applicants live in the area, while many want to live and work here, Digby said.
“The sheer number of very qualified people already in the area or who are interested in being in the area was fantastic,” he said. “In a lot of ways, this is a place where a lot of people want to be. If you have jobs on top of that, it wouldn’t be hard to recruit.”
And with more than one aviation-related employer in a community, more will be drawn here and recruiting will be easier, Digby said.
Source: SUPERIOR TELEGRAM