A forgivable loan announced Wednesday is expected to fuel the expansion of Altec Inc.'s manufacturing operations in Duluth, leading to the creation of 100 new jobs.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development will offer to lend the Birmingham, Ala.-based company $550,000 to assist with the expansion of its Duluth facility. That funding is anticipated to leverage an additional private investment of $12.5 million.

Altec assembles specialized aerial lift rigs, widely used in the utility industry, at its Duluth plant, which already employs more than 220 people.

Dave Faynik, general manager of Altec's Duluth operations, said the company already has begun hiring.

"We're definitely excited to be expanding here in Duluth," he said, explaining that several projects are already underway and the build-out should be completed in one to two years.

"We produce truck-mounted equipment for utility companies. We focus here primarily on the tall-reach devices to work on transmission lines. But we also produce a line of products for the lights and signs industry, and that's been a growing market segment for us here. We also provide installation for other products that we build around Altec to support our regional customers," Faynik said.

Heather Rand, Duluth's director of business development, said Altec will bring high-quality jobs to the community, as its lowest starting hourly wage at its Duluth facility is $16.80, plus benefits. She noted that most workers advance to earn significantly more.

The loan will come from DEED's Minnesota Investment Fund program. If Altec upgrades its facility then hits and sustains its stated goal of creating 100 more jobs in Duluth, the loan will turn into a straight-up grant.

Rand said most of Altec's investment will go toward new equipment, with only a modest expansion of the facility's footprint.

Loans from the same state program have been used to support the growth of other businesses in Duluth, including Cirrus Aircraft and AAR Corp., which operates an aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul facility.

Altec came to Duluth in 2002, when it acquired the assets of NorthStar Products International, a successor to Reach All. The business is located at Duluth's Clure Marine Terminal in a building it leases from the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

Vanta Coda, executive director of the port authority, referred to the loan announcement as "positive news for the community."

"We're just really grateful to be part of the process that keeps Altec here and growing," he said, noting that the company began its operations in Duluth with just 75 employees.

"What the community should understand about Altec is that they're a corporation with multiple sites across the United States that are similar in some respects to the one here. So when we think of competition, we normally wouldn't think of competition within a corporation. But that's exactly what happens in these types of manufacturing environments. So the fact that they're choosing to invest and grow here is really a fantastic outcome for all involved," Coda said.

Shane Delaney, DEED's communication director, said Duluth and the state have much to offer employers.

"Minnesota is well known for its strong workforce, and its active participation in the workforce. We have one of the highest workforce participation rates in the country," he said.

Delaney noted that Minnesota, and Duluth in particular, is an attractive destination, with some of the opportunities it provides.

"Businesses are really looking to locate in places where they can find good quality workers and where those workers can have a good work/life balance, so Minnesota offers a lot of unique opportunities on both those fronts," he said.