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Kestrel stirs interest from early job-seekers

Resumes are flowing into the Kestrel Aircraft Co. offices in Duluth, according to company spokeswoman Kate Dougherty. The promise of up to 600 jobs in Superior has created a lot of interest. But, Dougherty said, "We don't even have a building in ...

Resumes are flowing into the Kestrel Aircraft Co. offices in Duluth, according to company spokeswoman Kate Dougherty. The promise of up to 600 jobs in Superior has created a lot of interest. But, Dougherty said, "We don't even have a building in Superior yet."

The task of developing the Kestrel single-engine turboprop plane, taking it from a prototype into an FAA-certified design, is in high gear. About 50 employees -- engineers and a few drafters -- are tackling the design process. Once the appropriate FAA certification is in place, the company will have the green light to build. But delivery of the first Kestrel airplane, Dougherty said, is still about two years away.

The company plans to break ground by April for a new 35,000-square-foot facility in the Winter Street Industrial Park, where the plane's composite materials will be manufactured. Currently, engineering is the company's main focus.

Once the planes are being built, most Kestrel jobs will be in manufacturing the carbon-fiber composite parts and assembling the planes. Dougherty said the company will work with a number of organizations to ensure they have qualified people coming in, and on-the-job training is expected.

"At some point we hope to sit down with Kestrel to identify specific skills or knowledge they will need for each of the positions," said Charlie Glazman, associate dean of continuing education at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College of Superior. He said they might develop a certificate program on handling composites.

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Kestrel will offer jobs for many interests and skill sets. Front-desk duties are a critical first-contact point for the company. Marketing staff, technical writers, sales staff, welders, machinists, toolmakers, prototype-makers, human resources personnel, test pilots and maintenance workers will all be needed.

"The puzzle needs to come together to get that plane out the door," Dougherty said, and everyone's piece is important.

Some jobs require degrees and specialized training, such as engineers, welders and pilots. Others could hinge more on attitude.

"We believe how you fit into the family is as important as the gifts you bring to us in your talent or your abilities," Dougherty said.

As the company moves toward building the airplane and tooling parts for the airplane, the team will be built.

"One of the things that's so wonderful about getting into something early is watching it grow," Dougherty said.

The best way to keep track of Kestrel's employment needs is by monitoring its website, www.kestrel.aero . Click the contact button and go to careers. Dougherty said, though the company appreciates the enthusiasm of early job-seekers, a current resume will serve them better when a job listing is posted.

Kestrel was originally slated to build airplanes in Maine. But the loss of some critical funding from Maine and an appealing financial offer from Wisconsin brought the company to Superior. Dougherty also credited the persistence and vision of local leaders for landing the company.

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Sales of general aviation airplanes dropped in the first nine months of 2011, according to the General Aviation Manufacturer's Association. The category that dropped the least was turboprop planes. And, Dougherty said, there is a demand for an Alan Klapmeier plane, whatever the size. She expected the same kind of company pride and enthusiasm from the new Kestrel production team as was evident at Cirrus Aircraft in Duluth, which was also co-founded by Klapmeier.

"It will be a game-changer," Dougherty said.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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