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St. Louis County backs Cirrus expansion

The board unanimously approved $600,000 in tax relief at its meeting in Duluth on Tuesday.

Cirrus Aircraft planes shown during the manufacturing process in Duluth.
Several Vision Jets at various stages of assembly sit in the Cirrus plant in 2017.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — The St. Louis County Board approved $600,000 in taxes Cirrus Aircraft won’t have to pay as it expands its campus, including a move into the vacant airport building that formerly housed AAR and Northwest Airlines maintenance facilities.

“As we stand here today, we expect our intention is to triple the size of our business over the next 10 years,” Cirrus executive Bill King told the board. “It’s going to take a lot of real estate to do it.”

King, executive director for government relations and special projects, explained Cirrus would move its innovations team out of its manufacturing facility and into the expansive maintenance, repair and overhaul building currently owned by the Duluth Economic Development Agency.

Bill King of Cirrus, speaks at LSC
Cirrus executive Bill King speaks at the Lake Superior College Center for Advanced Aviation in 2017.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

The seven-member board voted unanimously to approve the tax abatement across 10 years. The decision is contingent on the Duluth City Council approving the same amount at its Feb. 14 meeting, totaling $1.2 million as Cirrus prepares to spend $25 million to $30 million on campus upgrades, including $2.3 million to retrofit the former maintenance building.

“This is a really good news story,” said Commissioner Patrick Boyle, representing eastern Duluth. “It seems to me AAR moved out of the hangar overnight, and sadly, it was right at the beginning of the pandemic.”

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The expansion is expected to create 80 new jobs for the company, which employs more than 1,200 people, including operations in Grand Forks, North Dakota; Knoxville, Tennessee; and McKinney, Texas.

King explained the vacant hangar wasn’t an ideal fit, but that Cirrus wanted to “lean into this” in order to make it work.

“It’s going to take a ton of work to do it, and several years to build it out,” King said. “We are requesting assistance to help make it economically viable — to help make this project make sense.”

Cirrus moved to Duluth in 1994, and commissioners cited a long history of support between the city, county and company.

Tax assistance could help Duluth's largest manufacturer ramp up production.

“It speaks volumes for what we can do and what we want to do to help employers and to work on those issues to get employers to St. Louis County,” said Board Chair Paul McDonald, of Ely.

The city of Duluth’s director of planning and economic development, Chris Fleege, was on hand to explain mechanics of the $1.2 million in tax abatement. Since DEDA owns the building, the tax abatement will be passed through to Cirrus on building rental cost savings.

“You are abating the taxes for DEDA and, in turn, those are reflected in the lease agreement,” Fleege said.

Fleege added Cirrus would have the option to purchase the building later on, and take on the full burden of taxes.

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“It’s so cool the largest player in the single-engine aircraft industry is right here in Duluth,” King said. “It couldn’t have been done without great support.”

Related Topics: CIRRUS AIRCRAFTST. LOUIS COUNTYDULUTHMANUFACTURINGAVIATION
Brady Slater covers St. Louis County and transportation for the Duluth News Tribune. He's a veteran journalist, and a University of Pittsburgh graduate who was born and raised in the Northland. He can be reached by emailing bslater@duluthnews.com or by calling or texting 218-721-2724.
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