Cirrus waits on funding package to keep jobs in MN

While we’re consumed — yet again — on whether the public should be footing part of the bill for pro sports stadiums, don’t overlook what’s happening in Duluth, where Cirrus Design, an aircraft manufacturer, is waiting on a public financing package of its own.

The Duluth News Tribune reports today the company is going to move its delivery center out of Minnesota, a move that makes sense because the weather here isn’t conducive to flight training.

But the story also lays out the “it’d be a shame if we move” scenario in a pending request for state help to expand manufacturing facilities in Duluth.

The company wants to construct a 50,000- to 60,000-square-foot finishing center. The city is seeking $4 million from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development — half the cost of the project. Cirrus would spend another $2.5 million equipping the facility.

If the funding comes together, construction of the new building will begin this summer. The proposed building would be constructed using precast concrete panels, and Chris Eng, executive director of the Duluth Economic Development Authority, said it should go up fairly quickly. Assuming all the financial pieces fall into place, Cirrus could be operating out of the new space by the first quarter of 2016.

“There are no guarantees, but we’re optimistic and hopeful about the grant prospects. It’s an important component of the funding package for the project,” Eng said.

Any delays could open the door for Cirrus to consider moving some of its production elsewhere, said Eng, noting that there are no shortage of cities that would eagerly set the table with other financial incentives for the company.

King said that if Duluth can build the proposed new finishing facility in short order, it would free up needed production space. The simultaneous relocation of delivery operations to another city also would provide room for the company’s now-cramped research and development functions in Duluth.

When a new delivery center opens, it could lead to the transfer of 35 to 40 jobs out of Duluth — but King said the city still stands to see a sizeable overall employment gain.

Cirrus has pledged that the size of its Duluth workforce will grow by no less than 150 jobs, but King said: “I think it will probably be a lot more than that.” The company already employs about 600 people locally.