Safe Air gains in tough economy

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 14, 2002

With the economy the way it is, it seems unusual that a company might be prospering. But at least one is in Albert Lea.

“December is usually our slow work month,” Arleigh Canny, the general manager of operations at Safe Air Repair Inc., said. “So far we this month we’ve been extremely busy.”

Safe Air has been a local business success story. Starting out of the basement of John and Sandy Roscoe in 1987, the company has since expanded to a large manufacturing warehouse which employs 45-50 people at any one given time, according to Canny.

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In the first years the Roscoes sold airplane parts, but weren’t manufacturing them. Soon they decided to start into that and they moved into a hangar at the Albert Lea airport. But with a bright economy, they decided to expand their manufacturing to machining and metal fabrication.

Today they are in a 220,000 square foot warehouse, near the airport. They produce parts for planes as well as components &uot;for just about anything,&uot; Canny said.

Inside the warehouse is a range of computerized machines which cut, bend, mill, grind and bore through the steel, brass and other metal parts. Hooked up through a network, some machines can be programmed by a central computer to produce a certain part. Others are manned machines.

Each machine has buttons, cogs and wires that might look complicated to a layman, but each worker is trained to work with these machines specifically. Many of the employees are graduates of Riverland Community College in Austin.

When the economy went sour last year Safe Air rode it out. Actually they saw more work come in and hired more employees.

Canny said that larger machining companies found they couldn’t produce enough so they doled their contracts out to smaller companies. Now Safe Air can’t find enough time to fit all their work in, so they are moving to a 24-hour shift.

John Roscoe said the business is doing well enough that they could expand right now.

“We could go another 15-25 more employees,” he said. “We have just guaranteed contracts for the next three years and others keep coming in.”

During a tour of the plant Friday, an order came in. Roscoe was relieved to see that the company didn’t need to produce the part until March because he said they’re booked up on the machines necessary for that work for a few months.

Roscoe said he has another manufacturing plant that produces wood products for planes and machinery up near Alexandria. But he says the management of that branch has not overseen the plant well. In order to get a better handle on that extension of his business he said he’d like to move that plant down to Southern Minnesota.

So far, Roscoe said, nobody in Albert Lea has been interested in helping to make that move possible, but he says that both Blue Earth and a small town outside of Mankato have shown interest.

While an move for his other company to Albert Lea does not look possible right now, Roscoe says it does look as if the business in Albert Lea could expand.

But Roscoe says that there is another hurdle in that expansion.

“The problem for us, as well as many other companies our size in Albert Lea, is that we don’t have a bank locally with the capacity to make large loans to us for operating capital,” Roscoe said.

He said he’d probably have to go to a Twin Cities bank for those types of loans.

Roscoe seems positive about the future for Safe Air and hopes that his business can keep going the way it has. He said he hopes that he can help to add to the economic development picture.

One week ago, at a meeting on economic development in Albert Lea, officials from the Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development said that more than 80 percent of economic development comes from local businesses.