GREAT LAKES REGIONAL REVIEW
ill King believes more people will turn to personal transportation aircraft in the coming years as frustration grows with the major airline companies. Traveling for business or pleasure is a major consumer of precious time with flight delays, layovers and other factors. King, vice president business administration at Cirrus Design Corp. in Duluth, Minn., believes one answer to travel woes is the use of the four-passenger planes his company produces near the Duluth International Airport.
"There's no question more people will learn how to fly," King says. "When you start looking at those kinds of inconveniences you have with airline travel, personal aircraft save companies a lot of time and money. Our customer is somebody who needs to travel."
Sales at Cirrus back King's assertion. The company is selling planes as fast as it can manufacture them and King says the company is selling more planes than anyone else in the industry – commercial, military or otherwise. In 2005, Cirrus took orders for 701 new planes. The company's Cirrus SR22 was the world's best selling plane for the fourth consecutive year, he says. Cirrus exports about 20 percent of its planes to Europe, South America and Australia. Its flagship SR22-GTS model sells for about $445,000.
That kind of sales growth is driving expansions at the company's Duluth campus with three separate projects under way that are adding 100 jobs. One project is adding a 46,000-sq.-ft. (4,273-sq.-m.) manufacturing bay, another is adding five new shipping and receiving docks and a third building is under way that will house the company's advance development activity and experimental work. These projects won't be the last expansions in Duluth.
"There's no question in my mind we will grow beyond that," King says. "We classify this as a good start. We are already planning for buildings that we will be building five, 10 and 15 years from now."
Access to Duluth's huge airport was a major reason the company moved there from Wisconsin in 1994. Back then, Cirrus had just 34 employees. Now, it employs about 1,200, including operations in Grand Forks, N.D., where a 93,000-sq.-ft. (8,600-sq.-m.) expansion is under way.
"We specifically market to individuals," King says. "We see ourselves as personal transportation, not aerospace. It doesn't make sense to talk about business versus personal travel. Those lines are just not drawable these days."
Cirrus' presence in Duluth has spurred a small aviation cluster. Northstar Aerospace, a maker of aircraft components, primarily for Cirrus, has grown along with its customer. Northstar is adding 100 employees in a 30,000-sq.-ft. (2,800-sq.-m.) expansion.
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