Duncan Aviation Announces Expansion: Persistence and Collaboration Win the Day
With Duncan Aviation's announcement last week that it will add 700 jobs and make a $50 million capital investment in its current Provo operations, EDCUtah capped one of the longest running projects in its history. "The project, which began more than a decade ago, is a case study in collaboration between government leaders on many levels and economic developers, overcoming obstacles and building relationships for the long term," says EDCUtah President and CEO Jeff Edwards.
In approximately 2005, when Duncan Aviation originally decided to look for a location to build a new maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility for corporate aircraft, leaders from the family-owned business began a year-long "stealth" search of possible western U.S. locations, adds Chief Marketing Officer Michael Flynn. In 2007, EDCUtah and GOED were invited to visit Duncan's operation in Battle Creek, Michigan and represent the state along with leaders from Provo and Ogden – two of three cities selected as possible sites for the planned expansion.
Edwards and economic developers from Provo and Ogden, along with then Provo Mayor Lewis Billings, flew to Michigan for three days of meetings with the company's leadership. Shortly thereafter, Provo was selected for the new facility. Unfortunately, the global financial crisis struck at about the same time, leading to the Great Recession and a 30% drop in one year in the corporate aviation business, as measured by new aircraft orders and total business jet operations.
Nonetheless, Duncan established a small footprint in Provo in 2010, standing up a heavy maintenance operation that eventually employed 40 people in an existing, 15,000-square-foot hangar at the municipal airport. During the five years that the full project was on ice, Edwards and Utah County Economic Development Manager Russ Fotheringham continued to build relationships with leaders from the aircraft service provider, visiting them at industry trade shows and at the company's Provo Airport operations. Various city and county leaders also visited the company, demonstrating that Utah was invested in the project for the long haul.
When the aviation industry rebounded from the recession, Duncan Aviation re-engaged in the project, announcing in 2014 that it would proceed with its plan to build a new business aircraft maintenance, modifications and paint complex at its Provo location. Building on nearly 45 acres of land at the Provo Municipal Airport, Duncan Aviation was set to add nearly 220,000-square-feet of buildings with its 166,000-square-foot maintenance and modifications center and its 53,000-square-foot paint facility.
However, air quality standards had become more stringent in Utah County during the period the Duncan project was on hold, which meant that emissions from the planned paint facility would not meet the new air quality standards without a $3 million investment by the company in additional air quality control equipment. Flynn says the added investment made the project was less economically feasible for Duncan and potentially stood as a project killer, since the company could expand at its other facilities in Michigan and Nebraska without the investment in new air quality equipment.
But leaders from Provo City, the State of Utah and EDCUtah did not give up. A collaborative effort between EDCUtah, the Governor's Office of Economic Development and Utah legislators led to the passage of SB 186 in 2016, which was sponsored by Sen. Curtis Bramble and Rep. Lowry Snow and authorized the use of money from the Industrial Assistance Fund to help Utah companies purchase and install air quality control technology.
The passage of SB 186 provided Duncan the help it needed to fund the new equipment and make the project economically feasible, which ultimately led to the company's announcement last week that it would proceed with its planned Provo expansion. Flynn notes that Provo City voted on Tuesday to provide a low cost lease on land at the municipal airport and substantial local incentive money to build the necessary infrastructure at the site.
As Edwards reflects on the project, he calls it remarkable, saying: "Duncan Aviation started looking at Utah more than 10 years ago. We worked on this project for nine years, five of which it was on hold, but we kept our foot on the gas and our eye on the prize. In a united effort we solved problems and let the company know that Utah was still interested. I don't know of another project in our history that was on hold for five years and then reconstituted itself with the same shape and size." Flynn adds that the Duncan Aviation project is "a great example of what we do really well in Utah: Everyone coming together to solve problems."
The Duncan project isn't the biggest that EDCUtah has done, but it is certainly one of the most unique in its nature and the collaboration involved. Furthermore, to have a premier aviation maintenance and repair operation like Duncan expand in Utah is significant for its high-paying jobs, the diversity of employment and the great exposure it provides the state.
The facility will be capable of doing heavy maintenance on some of the largest business aircraft in use today, including Gulfstream's 550, Bombardier's Global Express and Dassault's Falcon 7X. Duncan Aviation plans to break ground in the first quarter of 2017 and is expected to be completed by the first quarter of 2019.
"Six years ago, 14 Duncan Aviation team members ventured west to start Duncan Aviation's newest heavy maintenance location," says Bill Prochazka, Chief Operating Officer of Duncan Aviation's Provo location. "We were met with enthusiasm and professionalism from every direction, through our discussions with the state, Utah County and Provo City. Today we are 40 strong, on our way to 400+. It's an exciting time to be in the Business Aviation Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul sector, and to be a part of this great company as we provide high quality and responsive service to corporate business jet operators from around the world.”