A walk into the boardroom of Northern Wings Repair in Newberry is like a walk into a war room. A white board is tattooed with large arrows and objectives. A speaker exudes authority as he speaks of current and future directives.
“Our primary goal is growth,” said business owner David Goudreau, the man responsible for the illustrations mapping out the company’s next move. “We want to be a global presence in aerospace manufacturing and repair. We are also pushing to become a prime contracting vehicle for the United States government.”
For Mr. Goudreau, who grew up in St. Ignace before military service took him around the globe as a pilot and infantry officer, melding the military approach into his business model has provided the framework for launching a burgeoning aeronautics industry shortly after leaving the military in 2001.
“Nearly all of the principles of the military prepare you for business,” he said. “Detailed planning is a must in this competitive business environment. Mission focus, adhering to a timeline, and working as a team are all part of the internal recipe for success.”
By continuing to cultivate his highly specialized, globally recognized business in the Eastern Upper Peninsula, it is Mr. Goudreau’s hope that Northern Wings can expand its own operations, while serving as proof that the economic climate is ripe for similarly small, but nimble businesses to flourish here.
The work done at Mr. Goudreau’s facility, tucked unassumingly into the rural setting that surrounds it, comes as a surprise to many.
“Most folks don’t understand what we do here,” Mr. Goudreau said. “When they find out, there is a measure of disbelief.”
There is a sales and distribution aspect to the business, with numerous large aerospace companies as clients. Aerospace and vehicle parts are also built on-site, to the specifications of U.S. government agencies and large companies. Northern Wings can function as a repair station for aircraft parts, as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has certified the business to weld, machine, and conduct non-destructive testing of such items.
Among these services, there is also a small construction company, which counts various government agencies in and around the Great Lakes as its clientele.
Other clients that have used Northern Wings’ services include the Department of Interior, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Coast Guard.
The business employs 10 workers now, but is poised to expand in the next three to five months. This comes on the heels of an expansion five years ago, when the company grew from three employees to its current number and moved to the Luce County Industrial Park in Newberry.
“By 2006, we needed to expand and we needed to expand rapidly,” Mr. Goudreau said. “We needed somewhere on a Class A road for heavy duty-trucks, somewhere where we could receive and ship in the same day. We also had to have high-speed wireless Internet access."
After considering several options, including his native St. Ignace, Mr. Goudreau found a home for his expansion in Newberry’s industrial park.
In light of the company’s rapid growth, there remain strengths and challenges associated with operating in this rural location, Mr. Goudreau said.
A lack of high-speed broadband Internet access, distance from vendors and customers, and almost no pool of highly qualified technicians are obstacles, while a business friendly community and agencies willing to assist companies in getting established count as assets. Examples of such agencies include the Luce County Economic Development Corporation, which facilitated the relocation from Engadine, and Michigan Works!, which has assisted in screening and selecting employees. Michigan Works! has also helped employees obtain the technical training they need.
Mr. Goudreau has hired a local workforce from throughout the Eastern Upper Peninsula and watched them grow to meet the challenges of their positions in this cutting-edge industry.
“We’re at the point where we have built and developed our talent pool,” he said. “The single most important investment is the people. We spend an inordinate amount of time and money on training. Training must include not only technical aspects, but FAA regulatory issues and quality tenets and theory, as well. There are good technicians available, but we need to know how they can operate within a stringent quality system.”
The sheer scale and ambition of the operation is also something employees must accustom themselves to.
“The toughest part is teaching employees about our business,” Mr. Goudreau said. “We are not like most other U.P. small businesses that conduct work for other small businesses and do nearly everything locally. Northern Wings must integrate into a much larger national supply chain. With that comes complex quality, delivery, and technical issues.”
Mr. Goudreau believes the area could support several more small businesses, similar to his company in size and the specificity of their products.
“The notion of hammering out 20,000 units at once is no longer a viable business model in Michigan,” he said. “My vision does not go in line with assembly line production. Our state economy needs more specialized products, focusing on project team integration. The characteristics these types of companies possess are what they can leverage: speed, agility, mobility, and punch.”
If such a company has a choice as to where it locates, Mr. Goudreau added, the Upper Peninsula boasts an abundance of features that tie into “quality of place.”
“All you need to establish a business is here, including a positive business climate,” he said. “The U.P. is also an unparalleled place to raise a family and enjoy the outdoors.”