Vinland — that small southern Douglas County farming community that is home to the Vinland Fair, old timey tractor pulls and chicken noodle dinners that leave me wringing out my tie for days — is again proving it also is a growing high-tech hub.
Vinland-based McFarlane Aviation Products has filed plans with county officials to build a $1.2 million expansion of its facilities that design, manufacture and distribute specialty aircraft parts. The plans are the latest signs of growth for the longtime family-owned business. Back in 2011, we reported on the company’s last significant expansion. In 2011, we reported the company had 38 employees. Company owner Dave McFarlane told me the business now has 63 employees. McFarlane said the expansion will allow for additional employee growth in the coming years.
“We’re continuously adding a few people at a time,” McFarlane said. “That’s our plan — slow and steady growth.”
McFarlane estimated that the expansion would allow the company to grow to 90 employees over the next five to seven years, although history suggests the timeline could change. McFarlane said the company is growing rapidly enough that this expansion is happening about 1.5 years ahead of schedule.
McFarlane said the company’s business has remained steady, even as the aviation industry as a whole has suffered through some downturns. McFarlane said that is because the company focuses on making parts for existing aircraft. As times tighten, aircraft owners look to keep their existing aircraft operational rather than buying new aircraft. That means buying more parts.
“Our part of the market is saving people money by improving the replacement parts so they last longer,” McFarlane said. “We’re a much more stable market because customers have planes that they have to keep in the air, and we can help them do that.”
The company has about 3,000 different parts it sells, with most focusing on smaller general aviation and business class aircraft, although some of the parts are for larger jetliners, too.
The company has ended up being a nice boost to the county’s economic development efforts. McFarlane said about half the business is related to the manufacturing process, but he said the other half is related to distribution, administration and engineering. The company employs its own engineers to design products, and it also has several technical people to deal with issues such as FAA approvals and communication with the approximately 20 international distributors that the McFarlane has contracts with.
As for the proposed expansion, plans filed with the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department call for a new 24,000 square-foot building at the business’ current location at 696 E. 700 Road. That will be the third building on the site for the company. McFarlane said the company will move a portion of its manufacturing lines to the new building and also will run its shipping operations out of the new facility.
The site plan filed with the county also shows the location for another 17,000 square-foot building to be constructed in the future. McFarlane said he expects the company’s next expansion will be needed in five to seven years.
The current project already has the necessary zoning approvals and is just awaiting some technical approvals related to the layout of the site. McFarlane said he hopes to break ground before winter and to be operating in the new facility before summer.