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Increased aircraft production prompts growth in Duluth

American Precision Avionics needs more parking to accommodate its expanding workforce, as Cirrus Aircraft boosts its output.

Vehicles parked on the street outside American Precision Avionics
American Precision Avionics' growing work force has caused parking to spill out of the company's parking lot and onto the street. On-street parking technically isn't allowed on Prosperity Road, and the business is seeking a variance to allow it to expand its parking area to better accommodate workers, as it lays plans to hire another 25 people by the end of this year.
Peter Passi / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — American Precision Avionics’ parking lot has been overflowing, and it’s only going to get more crowded, as demand from its largest customer, Cirrus Aircraft, continues to grow and the business continues to add new clients.

The maker of wiring harnesses and other airplane components already employs 87 people and hopes to hire another 25 production workers yet this year, said Ashley Dingmann, an accounting and human resources specialist for the company. Meanwhile, the manufacturer has parking for just 40 vehicles, regularly forcing vehicles to spill onto Prosperity Road, where on-street parking technically is not allowed, said Deborah DeLuca, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, which manages the Airpark industrial development American Precision Avionics calls home.

Up to now, the authority has chosen to turn a blind eye to the parking violations rather than restrict the growth of its tenant. But on Tuesday, the Duluth Planning Commission will be asked for a variance granting the avionics company permission to increase the size of its lot — upping it from 40 to 60 parking stalls and exceeding the maximum recommendation for parking at the 16,000-square-foot plant by 50%.

DeLuca said that eliminating on-street parking improves safety, aids snow removal and allows for trucks to more effectively serve the industrial park.

If the variance is granted, as recommended by city planning staff, it should give the business adequate space to grow, operating seven days a week with both day- and night-shifts.

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Chris Fleege, director of Duluth’s planning and economic development division, said, “We obviously want them to be able to expand and hire more people.

A Cirrus Vision Jet in flight.
A Cirrus Aircraft Vision Jet comes in for a landing at Duluth International Airport on June 30.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

“One of their biggest customers is Cirrus. So, this is directly tied to helping them increase production. They’re going to need more wiring harnesses, and their whole supply chain is going to be impacted, which is great for everyone,” he said.

“Cirrus has shared that it wants to triple its production, and we want to keep as much of that business in Duluth as we possibly can,” Fleege said.

DeLuca said that’s one of the advantages of the aviation industry cluster that has developed around Cirrus in Duluth.

“There’s a sense of momentum when those businesses are interconnected. When one grows, they can all grow together,” she said, noting that when Duluth's industrial sector adds high-value jobs, the whole local economy benefits.

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Ian Vincent, director of business development for APEX, a regional economic development agency, said: “Many manufacturers have what we call a multiplier effect. So, for every job that they create, they support other jobs across the spectrum.”

In addition to Precision Avionics, Vincent pointed to other local beneficiaries of Cirrus’ growth, including Hydrosolutions, SCS Interiors and Midwest Aircraft Refinishing of Hibbing.

Fleege said addressing housing and child care needs will be key to helping Cirrus, American Precision Avionics and other businesses to recruit the workers they need.

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“But we’re excited to face those kinds of challenges. Those are great problems to have,” he said.

Vincent stressed the importance of strengthening the local talent pool for manufacturers in the aviation industry, as well, pointing to growing programs at Lake Superior College as an example of an educator working to meet the growing needs of the sector.

“We need to expose young people to some of these opportunities that don’t necessarily require a four-year degree but still offer extremely lucrative employment. It’s important for people to recognize the value of these jobs in our own backyard,” he said.

American Precision Avionics came to Duluth in 2007 with a startup staff of five people specifically because of the growing business it was doing with Cirrus, previously from a plant in Hampshire, Ill. Wolf Ziegler, CEO of American Precision Assemblers, its parent company said at the time that the move would allow the company to establish stronger ties and deliver better service.

Related Topics: AVIATIONDULUTH
Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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