Dec. 19--A Minnesota aviation company plans to open a regional service center next year at the Leesburg International Airport, potentially bringing 60 new jobs and building a multimillion-dollar hangar and office complex.
Wipaire Inc., which builds and installs the "floats" that allow planes to land on water, will lease an existing hangar at the airport but plans to build a 20,000-square-foot hangar and new office space within two years, said Lee Webb, vice president of aircraft services.
It's the first major expansion for the family-run company, which has been in the manufacturing business in the St. Paul area since 1960 and has more than $30 million in annual sales. Its main business is the construction, installation and maintenance of floats for planes, ranging from small, single-engine Piper Cubs to turboprops.
"This is the first outpost for the company, but we expect to see enough growth that can support that kind of expansion," he said.
The success of the Leesburg facility could lead to the company building other regional service centers, he said.
Leesburg officials on Monday approved a lease agreement with the company.
"This is definitely about jobs -- and good-paying jobs, because aviation jobs tend to pay above average," said Deputy City Manager Doug Drymon.
Wipaire should be able to begin working on aircraft in Leesburg in February, and Webb said the company has already lined up its first customer contract. The company plans to hire 10 employees to begin operations next year and is eyeing a five-acre site for a new hangar and offices.
Wipaire has weathered the poor economy because of its international clientele, Webb said.
When the company looked for a new service center site in the Southeast, Leesburg stood out because of its proximity to Lake Harris and to Tavares, which has become a destination for seaplane pilots and the seaplane industry.
One of the airport runways ends a few hundred yards from the shore of Lake Harris, and Leesburg officials had already been talking about construction of a $1 million seaplane ramp on the lake shore, Drymon said.
The company's expansion could help justify the cost of the ramp, though the city would seek state and federal grants, Drymon said.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 352-742-5927
Headquarters: South St. Paul, Minn.
CEO: Bob Wiplinger.
Year founded: 1960, though Wiplinger family has been in aviation since 1946.
Products and services: Manufacture, installation and maintenance of aircraft floats; avionics repairs; other aircraft modifications.
Annual sales: More than $30 million.
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