The Summit Aeronautics sign might still be in place, but a small, blue banner on the front of the Skyway Drive building signals the transition under way inside.
On Tuesday, the local airplane parts manufacturer celebrated its first official day as Boeing Helena, one of now 11 sites worldwide that make up the Fortune 500 company’s fabrication division. At a morning gathering in the plant’s high-ceilinged, machine-filled work space, Boeing officials welcomed their new employees and mingled with city and state leaders.
“In every community that Boeing is involved in, we are committed to that community and the people,” said Eric Smith, who will head the new Boeing operation.
Smith is a fourth-generation Montanan and a graduate of Montana State University. He’s worked across the globe since joining Boeing in 1988 as an industrial engineer and has worked his way up to various management positions within the company. Most recently, he oversaw and assisted with operations in Italy.
Tom Hoffman, who founded Summit Aeronautics 13 years ago and served as its president, will remain with the company, and all 135 employees are retaining their jobs. Aside from some decorating alterations — the addition of the Boeing logo and its signature color — little will change within the company, Smith said.
The main difference is that the firm, which has manufactured high-precision products for passenger and military planes, will transition over to Boeing projects exclusively, making parts for several of the company’s commercial aircraft models, including the new 787 Dreamliner.
Ross Bogue, vice president and general manager of Washington-based Boeing Fabrication, said Summit’s focus on titanium and steel alloys fits well with Boeing’s airplane design plans.
The plan, Smith said, is to eventually expand operations at the Helena site, which currently occupies about 120,000 square feet and is stocked with 15 large machines. There is room to grow west, toward the Helena Regional Airport, said project manager Caitlyn Burda. She’s worked at the company for six months and was excited about the recent turn of events.
“It’s a huge opportunity for the future of this company — this site and staff,” she said.
Will Parsons, who has been employed by Summit Aeronautics for the past year inspecting products entering and leaving the operation, was also pleased about the change. He’s starting a family and embarking on his career and said that being part of a Boeing operation will give him more opportunity and more security.
“It’s great for me,” he said.
The average age among the company’s employees is 31, Burda said, many of them graduates of University of Montana-Helena College of Technology. Mayor Jim Smith said the opportunities for the school and its students were the most exciting aspect of the Boeing acquisition, from his perspective. Evan Barrett, chief business development officer for Gov. Brian Schweitzer, also discussed the educational and economic benefits that could stem from the new arrangement, calling it a “red letter day” for Montana.
Aside from a flight inspection facility in Glasgow, the employees at the former Summit plant will be the only ones working for Boeing in the state.
“It’s a big day for the Big Sky and a big day for Helena,” Smith said.
The terms of the agreement between Summit and Boeing have not been disclosed.
Reporter Allison Maier: 447-4075 or firstname.lastname@example.org