BANGOR, Maine — C&L Aerospace CEO Chris Kilgour stepped up to the microphone in front of his 120 employees. He didn’t get out a full sentence before he choked on his words and paused to fight back tears.
“Emotional day,” he said, standing under a tent next to his company’s new $5 million headquarters expansion near the Bangor International Airport terminal. “Together, we’ve accomplished a lot through your dedication, your hard work, your effort.”
C&L cut the ribbon on its new 120,000-square-foot complex, a significant leap forward from its original 40,000 square feet of cramped, limited hangar space on the opposite end of the airport, during a ceremony Thursday morning.
In 2010, C&L purchased the aircraft maintenance portion of the struggling Telford Aviation Services. Kilgour, a New Zealand native, moved his family and his company headquarters from Australia to the United States. C&L started off with just 20 employees. It has grown steadily since.
The company handles plane maintenance — everything from painting and seat upholstery to engine overhauls — for small commercial, charter and corporate aircraft from around the globe.
Depending on the scale of work needed, companies and individuals pay C&L anywhere from $300,000 to $1 million to work on their plane.
Later this summer, C&L will open its 17,000-square-foot painting hangar, which was partially funded by a nearly $580,000 federal economic development grant. That will add 40-50 new jobs. In coming years Kilgour said he expects he can add another 50-100 employees in his maintenance wing.
“I really started to see the potential of this place,” he said inside one of C&L’s hangars after employees led a series of tours through the facility.
Over the years, other states have courted C&L with financial and tax incentives, but Kilgour chose to stay in Bangor because of people’s work ethic and efforts of local, state and federal officials to make Bangor as hospitable as possible, he said.
George Gervais, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, spoke at the event to congratulate the company and its employees. He cited a 2011 tax policy shift that exempted aircraft parts from Maine’s 5 percent sales tax, a change that has helped Maine aircraft businesses survive and thrive.
Kilgour also credited Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Mike Michaud, who sent representatives to the event, with their efforts to secure the grant for the painting hangar renovations.
Also speaking at the event were John Porter of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, a representative for Sen. Angus King, as well as several Bangor city officials, each of whom congratulated the company and thanked Kilgour for choosing Bangor as his base of operations.
Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler also attended. Before the event began, he shouted, “I like your new digs!” to C&L employees.
“This guy right here is one of the biggest economic engines in Maine,” Cutler said, pointing to Kilgour. He called Kilgour “proof that immigrants create jobs,” drawing laughter from the crowd.
“We need more Chris Kilgours in Maine,” he added.
Speaking at the event, Kilgour promised “many great things to come” from his company. More space could mean more contracts and more jobs, he said.
C&L also is considering expanding to offer charter flights in the U.S. at some point in the future, he added.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter @nmccrea213.