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Cash Infusion Helps Duluth, Minn.-Based Airplane Manufacturer Grow

KRTBN Knight-Ridder Tribune Business News: Duluth News-Tribune - Minnesota

Copyright © 2001 KRTBN Knight Ridder Tribune Business News; Source: World Reporter ™

Cirrus Design Corp., a Duluth-based airplane manufacturer, is growing as it works to boost production.
In the past couple months since Crescent Capital – the U.S. arm of First Islamic Bank of Bahrain – invested $100 million in the company, the number of people working at Cirrus has increased by more than 16 percent. The company now employs 595 people, including about 425 workers in Duluth and Hibbing and 145 at a plant in Grand Forks, N.D. Other sales staff are positioned throughout the nation.

Cirrus President and Chief Executive Officer Alan Klapmeier said, “Hiring is necessary to meet the high customer demand for our aircraft.” The company has orders for 600 airplanes to fill and it is producing one a day at present. Vice President Bill King said he expects daily production to hit two airplanes by late in the first quarter of 2002 or early in the second quarter.
Cirrus has enlisted some expert help to boost production. King pointed to the company’s Oct. 29 hiring of David Coleal as vice president of operations as an encouraging development. Coleal’s background in manufacturing includes stints with Caterpillar Inc. and New United Motor Manufacturing, a joint venture between Toyota and General Motors.

For the past three years, Coleal worked for McKinsey & Co., a manufacturing consulting firm. King said he has few doubts about Coleal’s ability to lead Cirrus’ five production lines; after all, he’s helped oversee the production of 900 cars daily in a former post.

“We’re blessed to have him,” King said. “He’s a brilliant man, but he still acts like just a regular guy. He fits like an old shoe.” Cirrus has some big decisions to make about reshaping production. A $5.75 million facility is being constructed next to Cirrus’ current plant to accommodate the company’s growth. The building will be funded in part by a $3.5 million federal grant. The remainder of funding will come from the Duluth Economic Development Authority, which will own the facility and lease it to Cirrus.

For its part, Cirrus has pledged to create an additional 350 jobs in Duluth within three years of the new facility being completed.

Cirrus produces two models of airplanes: the 200-horsepower SR20 and the 310-horsepower SR22. Both the four-seat aircraft come standard equipped with a unique parachute that can be deployed for emergency landings.

Since the company began production in July 1999, Cirrus has delivered more than 250 completed airplanes to customers.

Orders for Cirrus’ planes slumped a bit in the weeks following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, King said, but he described an upswing in business lately. “We’ve had a barrage of sales in the last 10 days.”

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