Duluth touts growing aviation industry

Duluth aviation jobs
Duluth Mayor Don Ness stands in front of an Air Canada jet at the AAR maintenance facility in Duluth on Oct. 3, 2013. AAR employs 276 people after opening its Duluth facility last year, and plans to hire 40 more. Ness says job growth in the community highlights the need for affordable housing and job training programs.
MPR Photo/Dan Kraker

Duluth officials used a giant aircraft hangar as a backdrop today Thursday to tout job gains in the aviation sector and in the region's economy as a whole.

AAR Aircraft Services, a Chicago-based airplane maintenance company, set up shop last year in an old Northwest Airlines facility in Duluth empty since 2005. Now 276 employees maintain Air Canada jets here. The company is looking to hire 40 more workers.

The region's aviation sector, which includes plane manufacturers Cirrus and Kestrel, is expected to grow by 40 percent in the next seven years.

That presents the city with new challenges, said Duluth Mayor Don Ness.

"Where in the past we have been worried about how do we create jobs to fill the demand for people to live here, it's now we're creating so many jobs, that we have openings and we have to find those quality people and bring them to our area," Ness said.

To help fill the gap, Duluth's Lake Superior College hopes to open an aircraft maintenance program next fall.

There's also not enough housing for new workers, Ness added. Duluth's rental vacancy rate is less than 1 percent.

"Now it's up to our community to deliver on our end of the bargain, which is to make sure we continue to deliver on the talent, make sure we continue to deliver on quality affordable housing in our community, so that the folks who get a job here at AAR have a place to live," he said.

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