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Aircraft Refurbishing Company Soars

Military spending on new airplanes is shrinking, forcing the government to maintain and refurbish the planes it already has.

PERRYVILLE, Mo. (AP) -- Military spending on new airplanes is shrinking, forcing the government to maintain and refurbish the planes it already has. That's something Sabreliner Corp. in Perryville specializes in.

"When it comes to the Department of Defense, the money is not there to buy new aircraft," said Jim Meier, senior vice president of government and corporate aviation services at Sabreliner. "The money is there to keep the aircraft they have flying. That's our niche. We keep aging aircraft flying, and we're pretty good at it."

The company, with locations in Perryville, St. Mary, Mo., and Ste. Genevieve, Mo., hasn't built an airplane since 1982.

In September, Gov. Jay Nixon announced Sabreliner would receive $5 million in state economic development incentives to help build a new 27,000-square-foot hangar to house expanded stripping and painting operations and hire 400 employees.

A total of $6.7 million will be invested by Sabreliner in the project, which will add the jobs during the next five years.

Sabreliner has been awarded $3.7 million in state tax credits, a $1 million community development block grant and $273,000 in recruitment assistance and energy and sales tax exemptions.

In the past 18 months, the company added 100 employees, including 25 since August, Meier said.

The new jobs, at above-average wages, will help keep Perry County's unemployment rate the second-lowest in the state, said Larry Tucker, executive director of the Perry County Economic Development Authority.

Perry County's November unemployment rate was 6 percent, and the only county with lower unemployment was Nodaway County with 5.6 percent, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center. The state unemployment rate for December was 9.5 percent, according to the state Department of Economic Development.

Meier said Sabreliner is on track to continue adding jobs. It currently has 500 employees total at its three facilities.

"Our number of employees is driven by workload," he said. "Our business forecast for 2011 shows we could hire 50 to 100 people through the course of the year. Our intent is to broaden our portfolio and do more commercial work, but right now, this is where the opportunity lies."

The foundation is now being built by Robinson Construction of Perryville for the new building to be completed this summer to give Sabreliner the increased capacity it needs to keep up with growing demand for refurbishing of both airplanes and helicopters.

"The big need this (expansion) is filling is increasing our throughput capability," Meier said. "Almost all aircraft as part of the work requires strip and paint. That has been our bottleneck. Our ability to process more aircraft through from strip and paint standpoint gives us the capacity to handle more aircraft."

Ten years ago, Sabreliner had one stripping hangar and one painting hangar. It has since added two painting hangars in existing buildings.

"It's not the ideal situation. That's why the company made the decision to make the investment in adding to our capacity," Meier said.

Its helicopter refurbishing business is booming right now, Meier said. Sabreliner takes Black Hawk helicopters and reconfigures them into VIP helicopters often used to transport government officials.

Perryville Mayor Debbie Gahan said Sabreliner's new facility will be a "showcase for or city and a source of great pride for them as well as us."

"They have gone out of their way to become acquainted with what we have to offer, and what we hope to accomplish as a city, and have offered their support and philanthropy," she said.

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