Tools and dies, aviation companies plan expansions in southwest Michigan

Michigan economic development officials approved performance-based grants for two companies with combined investments of $34 million to create 77 jobs in Battle Creek and Benton Harbor Township.

At Battle Creek, Duncan Aviation Inc. plans to add a hangar, three support buildings and a new vehicle maintenance building. The $30 million investment by the aviation services company is expected to create at least 61 jobs.

Victor Mowatt

The expansion received a $488,000 performance-based grant from the Michigan Business Development Program. The city and its Tax Increment Finance Authority also offered $2.5 million to help add tarmac around the hangar.

The company chose Michigan over competing sites in Nebraska and Utah, according to state officials. Duncan Aviation has 39 locations across the United States and employs 638 people in Battle Creek.

Andy RichardAndy Richard“At Duncan Aviation, we are excited to build on more than 24 years of success in Michigan,” Andy Richards, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Duncan Aviation, said in a statement. “This new facility will provide dozens of career opportunities for members of our local community and advancement opportunities for members of our existing team.”

The company uses Michigan works! to reach local talent in disadvantaged areas and offers apprenticeships to unskilled workers.

“Duncan Aviation is an exemplary company, offering quality, well-paid jobs. Duncan Aviation is always at the table in partnership with the City of Battle Creek (Battle Creek Unlimited) and community stakeholders to develop workforce and economic development solutions,” said Battle Creek Unlimited President and CEO Joe Sobieralski. “We are thrilled they have chosen Battle Creek to expand again, growing to nearly 700 employees in the City of Battle Creek.”

In Benton Harbor Township, a contract tool and die shop focused on making specialty tools and fixtures is also expanding its footprint. Bulk Ag Innovations LLCdo business like West Michigan Tool and Die (WMTD), has achieved Minority Business Enterprise certification through the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Board and is gaining new opportunities in defense contracting.

WMTD is expanding operations in Benton Harbor Township to meet increased demand, with plans to add a bay and reconfigure the engine building. The $3.4 million project is expected to create 22 jobs. The development is supported by an $88,000 performance-based grant from the Micro Michigan Business Development Program. The company chose Michigan over a competing site in Chicago, state officials said.

“WMTD also looks forward to bringing our expanded capabilities to new and existing customers as we work to leverage our Minority Business Enterprise certification to bring vendor diversity to the marketplace,” said WMTD CEO Victor Mowatt, in a press release. “MEDC, Michigan, it works! and the Cornerstone Covenant have helped us sustain through the past difficult years and emerge ready for growth. We look forward to new opportunities and new team members.

WMTD offers on-the-job training and is also developing a toolmaker apprenticeship program. Local economic development organization Cornerstone Alliance provided staff to support the project.

Adopted by the Michigan Strategic Fund in 2019, the Micro MBDP tool is designed to help businesses grow, especially in rural or high unemployment areas and target industries. The Micro MBDP provides grants, loans, and other economic assistance to businesses for highly competitive projects in Michigan that have fewer job creations than required by the original MBDP guidelines.

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