AirBorn launches $3.7 million expansion in Lake City

LAKE CITY — Jon Nelson, director of operations for AirBorn Inc.’s Lake City plant, made a couple of things clear Wednesday afternoon as he addressed a sea of blue-shirted employees gathered outside for a company announcement.

First, the work they do is important, whether it’s building precision electrical connectors used in deep-water drilling, operating critical systems on F-35 fighter jets or in applications in outer space, Nelson said.

Secondly — and the reason for the gathering of company employees, state and local officials under a giant tent — was that there will soon be a lot more AirBorn employees doing that work.

In fact, the workforce won’t begin to fit under that tent a year from now if all goes as planned.

The employee-owned company announced in May that its Lake City plant, formed in 2002 by the merger of AirBorn and homegrown Caron Enterprises, would invest $3.7 million for new equipment and a 30,000-square-foot expansion, adding about 250 employees over the next three years.

Local employees and company leaders from around the country gathered for the ceremonial groundbreaking for the expansion project, which Nelson expects will be completed by January.

The building is being built by McCormick Structural Systems of Erie. Structural steel was stacked to the east of the existing building Wednesday, waiting for work to begin.

Company officials praised the Governor’s Action Team and state Department of Community and Economic Development for its assistance with the project and for helping to make the decision to expand in Lake City an easier choice for a company that had other options.

Most of the funding, however, is coming from AirBorn, not the government.

The company is receiving a $500,000 grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development, and a second $112,050 workforce development grant to train workers. The company also is eligible for low-interest loans.