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Superior bypassed for new project over 'disagreement' with state

Alan Klapmeier, then president and CEO of Kestrel Aircraft, stands in March 2013 with a mockup of the aircraft in a hanger at the Bong Airport in Superior. Clint Austin / Forum News Service

The CEO of an aircraft company that once eyed a manufacturing facility in Superior is looking to expand in Minnesota. One Aviation wants to set up a new division to build aircraft parts for its Eclipse jet.

One Aviation CEO Alan Klapmeier said the Minnesota facility would eventually make parts for its yet to be built single-engine plane, the Kestrel 350.

"It starts with about 20 people and about $9 million, but obviously we have plans to do more," Klapmeier said.

Klapmeier is seeking a $1.5 million loan from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board in Minnesota to help develop a facility at the Grand Rapids, Minnesota, airport. The IRRRB granted the company the loan Monday.

Gov. Scott Walker visited Superior more than four years ago to announce financing for a facility to produce the Kestrel 350 plane in the city. The manufacturing facility was expected to create 600 jobs, but it has yet to materialize.

Klapmeier said the company made a conscious decision not to build the new facility as part of Kestrel in Superior.

"We have a disagreement with the state of Wisconsin over what they agreed to do and whether or not they did it," Klapmeier said. "Naturally, that would play a very large role in our decision about whether or not to do this new project in Wisconsin."

Klapmeier has said the state didn't come through on financing.

Spokesmen for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, and Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority have said Kestrel faced challenges raising money and meeting requirements to receive financing through federal programs.

Klapmeier said development of Kestrel is still moving forward slowly, adding the primary focus of One Aviation is the Eclipse jet.

"We have not made a decision yet of whether or not we will or won't finish the Kestrel project in Wisconsin," he said, adding that it's unlikely they'll build Kestrel in Superior.

Kestrel Aircraft Company, which joined with New Mexico-based Eclipse Aerospace to form One Aviation, is subject to penalties if it does not fulfill its contractual obligation with WEDC. The state has three contracts with the company for millions in loans and tax credits provided on the condition of job creation through the manufacturing facility.

The Superior Telegram contributed to this report.

Wisconsin Public Radio, Copyright 2016, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board. Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard locally on 91.3 KUWS-FM and online at www.wpr.org.

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