Plans are in motion to open a facility at McGhee Tyson Airport that will be the national showroom for the producer of a new personal jet, as well as other general aviation aircraft. A host of state and local officials gathered under an awning at McGhee Tyson on Wednesday to make the announcement that Duluth, Minn.-based Cirrus Aircraft would build a $15 million “Vision Center” in the airport’s West Aviation area, creating 170 jobs.
The facility, which Cirrus hopes to have operating by mid-2016, would be the pickup point for buyers of its aircraft, including the Vision SF50 personal jet, which is in development. “This is a transformational day for Cirrus Aircraft, “ Cirrus co-founder and CEO Dale Klapmeier told the crowd. “We are expanding all aspects of our business right now.”
Klapmeier said Cirrus has delivered 6,000 airplanes from Duluth. “We will deliver the next 6,000 airplanes from this location,” he said. In a board meeting an hour before the announcement, the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority approved a memorandum of understanding for the project and accepted a $950,000 state grant toward site development.
Asked about incentives offered to attract Cirrus to East Tennessee, state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd said these still were being negotiated.
However, some steps made to bring Cirrus to McGhee Tyson have been announced. State Sen. Doug Overbey (RMaryville), along with Republican representatives Art Swann and Bob Ramsey, sponsored legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly this year to clear a legal hurdle for the aircraft manufacturer.
Senate Bill 847 gives manufacturers of helicopters and airplanes or related equipment 30 days instead of 15 to move the products out of state before they would be subject to sales and use taxes.
Cirrus also will take part in the Tennessee Manufacturing Innovation Program, called RevV, which is administered by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The program offers vouchers that give companies access to ORNL facilities and expertise when they have technical challenges.
Thom Mason, ORNL director, said the vouchers range from $50,000 to $250,000. “We will be having a RevV grant that will allow Cirrus to access some of the lab facilities like our supercomputers, our carbon fiber facilities, materials, and tackle some of the challenges that they may face,” he said.
In its hometown, Cirrus is seeking $4 million from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development toward a proposed $8 million finishing center in Duluth for the new jet. But the Minnesota House of Representatives so far only has authorized $3 million, according to the Duluth News Tribune.
Bill Marrison, president of the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority, said airport authority board member Jeff W. Smith did much to spearhead the yearlong effort to recruit Cirrus to McGhee Tyson.
Klapmeier told the crowd that production will remain in Duluth, but the company wanted to build a facility farther south, in a warmer climate, for its customers to receive aircraft and train on them. Initially, Cirrus was considering 30 airport locations in 15 states.Klapmeier said the company wanted a location that not only met its needs but would give customers a pleasant place to stay. When the Vision jet is available, customers picking them up at McGhee Tyson will need to spend 10 to 15 days learning to fly them. Having Cirrus’ presence in East Tennessee will be a boon in several ways, Smith said. “These people sell more general aviation aircraft than any other general aviation aircraft manufacturer,” he said. “That is one thing. The second is, they are the first company that is going to deliver a general aviation jet. They will start deliveries of those this year and all of these aircraft they sell, they are going to deliver to their customers from here. So when you think of it, this is their showroom; it’s their dealership.”
The average annual income of customers who will be coming in to buy one of the jets is $20 million, Smith said. “Those people are going to be coming in and staying in the community for a period of time and my goal is to develop relationships with some of them that will eventually lead to them considering repositioning some of their small businesses here,” Smith said.
The Knoxville facility will include a full-motion flight simulator currently under development and other fixed training devices. It will also contain a factory service center as well as a design center, allowing buyers to personalize and create their Vision SF50, BenKowalkski, vice president of marketing for Cirrus, noted the convenience of the location. “We are calling it a campus,” he said. “One of the things that was so appealing to us is that you can literally land here and not use your car for the next two weeks. You can walk to the hotel; you can walk to our facility.”