Midcoast Adding 200 Jobs, Builds Large Hangar

The corporate jet business is booming these days, and that has Midcoast Aviation flying high.

So high, in fact, that the private jet refurbisher plans to add 200 jobs and build the biggest hangar yet at its Downtown St. Louis Airport headquarters over the next year.

The $17.5 million expansion will enable Midcoast - which maintains, paints and installs interiors on high-end corporate jets - to handle bigger planes than it ever has, up to the size of a Boeing 757, said vice chairman Gary Driggers. And the 125,000-square-foot hangar is big enough that Midcoast can work on two at a time.

It's the latest growth surge for Midcoast, which has seen revenue climb 20 percent annually in recent years to more than $200 million in 2006, Driggers said. Midcoast was bought last year by Swiss company Jet Aviation and today has 1,100 employees at its facilities around the airport in Cahokia and Sauget.

"Business has been very good, and the skyline for business looks even better," Driggers said.

That's because the market for business jets is soaring. The number of business jets built worldwide has jumped to 886 last year from 518 in 2003, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. And orders remain strong.

They are being driven by growth in developing countries - particularly China and India - and a strong North American economy, said Jens Hennig, director of operations at GAMA. Many big companies also are deciding it's more efficient to own their own planes than have executives sitting on commercial airliners.

"Corporations need these planes just to get better utilization of executives' time," Hennig said.

All those new planes need to be painted and customized, and that means business for Midcoast, and jobs in Sauget.

Most of the 200 new hires will be technicians who earn at least $50,000 a year, Driggers said.

Those jobs could have gone elsewhere: Midcoast considered renting hangars in Arkansas or Arizona. But it decided to build new at its headquarters at Downtown St. Louis Airport after the state of Illinois offered $4 million in incentives. Those will include a mix of sales tax exemptions, job training funds, facility improvements and a $2.6 million tax credit for job creation spread over 10 years.

Construction will start in May or June, Driggers said, and is expected to take about a year.

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