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Northstar Aerospace recalls 20 employees

Northstar Aerospace marked a modest milestone today, announcing that it has now recalled about 20 laid off or furloughed workers. The Duluth-based precision machine shop now employs 40 people, up from a low of about 20 people in December. In the ...

Northstar Aerospace marked a modest milestone today, announcing that it has now recalled about 20 laid off or furloughed workers.

The Duluth-based precision machine shop now employs 40 people, up from a low of about 20 people in December. In the fall of 2008, Northstar had employed about 115 people.

But then the recession hit the aviation industry with full force, sending aircraft sales into a tailspin.

"We fell off the bridge in November," said John Eagleton, Northstar's president and CEO.

"In 45 years of business, I've never seen anything change so quickly," he said. "I had to rapidly bring the company down to a level where our expenses met our reduced revenues."

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Eagleton still hopes to see Northstar's work force return to its previous strength, but he said: "We're being very conservative with returning employees. We've been bringing back a few each Monday for the past several weeks."

Cirrus Aircraft, Northstar Aerospace's largest single customer, has been ramping its production back up in recent weeks after a similar period of sharp cutbacks. The Duluth airplane manufacturer is now producing eight airplanes per week, leading to more work for Northstar.

But Northstar has lost another key source of business in Eclipse Aviation. The Albuquerque-based company was on the cusp of surpassing Cirrus as Northstar's biggest client, when it fell on financial hardships and filed for bankruptcy protection. The situation left Northstar and other Eclipse suppliers holding hefty unpaid tabs for receivables.

Northstar responded, in part, by working to diversify its business.

"When we were down and out, we had to get creative and find other industries we could serve," Eagleton said.

"It seems like the medical device industry never skips a beat," said Eagleton, describing one area where Northstar redoubled its efforts.

The company also has looked to alternative energy, including wind power.

This October, it expects to begin producing a newly designed vertical wind turbine for a client Eagleton said he could not identify.

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"I'm very cautiously optimistic, but right now we're taking it day by day," he said.

Related Topics: AVIATION
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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