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A Helena company that began 13 years ago with four employees in a small building on the south side of the airport on Monday became part of the largest aerospace firm in the world.

Boeing announced Monday its acquisition of Summit Aeronautics Group, a precision manufacturing firm that today employs 135 at its local manufacturing plant.

Terms of the purchase were not disclosed. The company will become part of Boeing Fabrication, which operates 10 sites around the globe (Helena becomes the 11th) involved in various manufacturing and assembly technologies for the company's aircraft.

Boeing is buying the building, assets and inventory of Summit and will operate the plant just east of the terminal building at the Helena Regional Airport. The deal is expected to close within a month.

Summit founder and president Tom Hoffman will stay on in a technical role.

"It's been a long road," Hoffman said Monday, reflecting on the 13-year history of the company. "Boeing brings a variety of opportunities and security and opportunity for future growth. It's a great thing for the employees and the community and the state."

In town to announce the transition, Perry Moore, general manager of Boeing Fabrication's Portland plant, said that by buying Summit the company can expand its commercial manufacturing to meet growing demand.

"We're really excited, from the Boeing perspective, to enter into this partnership with Tom and his team," Moore said. "There are very few people in the industry that specialize in that and are competent and excel in that, and Summit is one of those companies."

Moore said that Eric Smith, a longtime Boeing employee, will move to Helena to run the local operation, but that otherwise no personnel changes are immediately anticipated.

Summit, which engineers and manufactures precision parts for both civilian and military aircraft for a number of the largest aerospace firms in the world, has done work for Boeing before.

Summit currently machines 747-8 fail-safe bars, which allow the flaps to move on the wings of the jumbo jets; 787 edge frames that fit around the main doors of the model that's expected to begin carrying passengers next year; and 767 main-landing-gear beams.

Boeing says that once the acquisition is complete, Summit will continue its work on these parts as well as additional parts of the 787.

Summit also has contracts with other defense manufacturers, and Moore said the company will explore either finding other places to have that work performed, or will finish out those contracts before moving exclusively to work on Boeing projects.

"They'll continue to work on all the commercial products we have," Moore said. "We're starting out generally keeping the same head count, and we feel that over time we'll add workers and replace military work with commercial work."

The acquisition is good news for Helena from a business perspective, said Cathy Burwell, president of the Helena Area Chamber of Commerce.

"It's a cool thing for Helena to bring a Fortune 500 company in," she said. "Boeing is stepping up and wants to be a community player, and I think we'll see good things from it. And it says a lot about the good work Summit has done. They're not going to come here and buy a company that isn't doing good work."

For several years Summit has relied on the machining program at the University of Montana-Helena to train its workers. Half of the firm's 50 machinists are UM-Helena-trained, and six of the college's most recent eight machining graduates went to work at Summit.

Summit has long been held up as a small business success story by local business leaders and politicians. Helena's congressional delegation has frequently visited the plant with foreign dignitaries or to announce new small business initiatives. Both Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Denny Rehberg issued press releases Monday congratulating the company and welcoming Boeing to Montana.

Hoffman was named the U.S. Small Business Administration's Small Business Person of the Year for Montana in 2003, and the company has earned numerous awards and honors from various military contractors, among them "Outstanding Team Player" and "Outstanding Supplier" awards from Lockheed Martin.

Other customers have included helicopter manufacturers Bell Helicopter and Sikorsky. Hoffman has talked in the past about balancing the company's workload between military and commercial jobs, relying on diversity to weather economic downturns and the whims of congressional funding. The Boeing takeover means the plant will shift to commercial work, but will no longer be constantly hunting for the next contract.

Summit's current manufacturing facility covers 120,000 square feet and includes millions of dollars' worth of large-scale precision milling and manufacturing equipment. Hoffman said Monday the current building could be expanded to 300,000 square feet, and the company also has the option to build a second, 100,000 square-foot building across the street from its current home if demand increases.

Boeing's corporate offices have been in Chicago for a decade, but many people still associate the company with the Seattle area, where it has a rich history and maintains a major commercial manufacturing facility.

Other than a handful of employees in Glasgow involved in flight testing, Summit's 135 workers become the only Boeing employees in Montana. Worldwide, Boeing employs around 159,000 people in the U.S. and 70 other countries.

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