Friday, April 20, 2012

Community convinced Kestrel will fly

 Kestrel Aircraft CEO Alan Klapmeier, right, cracks a joke as he talks at the Business Improvement District annual meeting Thursday night in Superior.

(Jed Carlson, Superior Telegram)

Read the article: Community convinced Kestrel will fly

Published April 20, 2012, 07:00 AM 

By: Candace Renalls/Superior Telegram

Yes, but will it fly?

That question went to Alan Klapmeier, who plans to build his new Kestrel airplane in Superior, during a gathering of business people on Thursday.

“We don’t know; we hope so,” Klapmeier said with apparent humor. “It is a really cool airplane. There’s a lot wrong with it right now. It’s a handful.”

But that’s to be expected when a new plane is under development, he added.

Klapmeier was the featured speaker at the annual Superior Business Improvement District meeting, telling the group at Vintage Italian Pizza why he chose Superior over Maine to build the manufacturing plant for his Kestrel turboprop airplane that’s under development and will sell for $3 million.

“Three million sounds like an outrageously expensive product, but what is most surprising is how many people can afford it,” said the founder of Kestrel Aircraft Co.

From the beginning, it was a team effort in Superior with a can-do attitude, even when things went wrong, he said. It was good communication and everybody getting on the same page that helped, all of which were lacking in Maine, the other contender. And, he promised, Superior’s effort will pay off.

“We were worth it,” he said. “We’ll prove it in the long run.”

Klapmeier plans to fill a niche with his single engine turboprop designed to carry eight passengers and a pilot. He plans to construct a facility this summer in the Winter Street Industrial Park to build the plane’s composite parts. All that will transition to a manufacturing plant he intends to build next year near the city’s Richard I. Bong Airport. He promises 150 to 200 jobs for starters, which will grow to more than 600 jobs by 2016 as the plane moves into production. Jobs will cover the gamut, from engineers and technicians to construction and snow plow operators.

He says the company will make at least 50 to 60 planes a year and probably a lot more, causing some to predict it will rival the employment in the Twin Ports during the heyday of shipbuilding.

But Klapmeier admitted the Superior option seemed far-fetched at first.

“It got to the point where, not only could we do it here … but it was the right place,” he said.

Those in attendance seemed convinced.

“All you have to do is do research on Alan Klapmeier,” said Dave Minor, president of the Superior Douglas County Chamber of Commerce. “Look at what he’s done. He’s delivered on his promises.”

Indeed, Klapmeier has done it before. He co-founded and formerly led Duluth-based Cirrus Aircraft, which today has lead market share of its category of small, single-engine piston planes.

Andy Karon, owner of TLK Industries, a Superior scrap metal dealer, had no doubts it will happen.

“All the work that’s gone in by the Superior contingent and all the time and energy put in by Kestrel have led to this point,” he said. “It shows me Kestrel has put no small investment into this already and has every intention of seeing this happen.”

The choice of Superior came with an incentives package totaling $118 million in loans, grants, tax breaks and credits from various government entities.

Klapmeier said he will use local suppliers as much as possible. And as parts are built and tested and the plane moves into production, the city will see more and more of an impact on the local economy.

“People will be looking up and seeing our planes flown,” he said.

When his former company, Cirrus Aircraft came up, he stressed that Kestrel will not be competing with Cirrus’ single engine piston planes or its new light Vision Jet.

“We’re a different category,” he said, noting that Kestrel will operate more efficiently than a business jet. “We think there is a very, very large market for this airplane.”


No comments:

Post a Comment