ST. CLOUD – New Flyer Industries is getting bigger in St. Cloud by going smaller.
The longtime heavy-duty bus manufacturer is in the process of rolling out a new model — the MiDi — a medium-sized, low-floor bus intended for medium-duty transit and shuttle services.
Unlike the heavy-duty buses, which can be as long as 60 feet, the MiDi is about half that.
"It continues to add to our portfolio of products," said Kevin Wood, New Flyer's vice president of manufacturing in St. Cloud. "The MiDi bus is something we believe there's a market for. ... We're looking at shuttles or small suburban communities that don't need a heavy-duty bus."
The MiDi — New Flyer's first collaboration with another company, Alexander Dennis Ltd. of Scotland — is targeting a new market.
"The product will fit a niche for private-market operators," said Amy Schreiner, MiDi program manager, who has been with New Flyer for 11 years. "Hotel shuttles and airport shuttles are good examples where they need a bus, but maybe not quite the size of our 40- and 60-foot models."
Schreiner's office is next to an area of the New Flyer factory that was added last year in preparation for the MiDi. The $5 million expansion included six new bays from which the buses get their final inspection before heading to their destination.
There also are two new water test booths, both with water reclamation systems to be environmentally efficient, to ensure there are no leaks in the finished product.
New Flyer has added about 100 employees in the past year, bringing the payroll to 686. The company also looks to hire 70 more people by June, when the MiDi will be in full production. To help facilitate that, New Flyer has launched a training program with help from St. Cloud Technical and Community College that will train almost all employees in basic and advanced skills needed to build the buses. The training, made possible in part by a $375,000 state grant, includes core skills training; using blueprints, air- and hand-tools; and an advanced MiDi core skills training.
New employees usually come to the company on a temporary basis through Doherty Staffing Solutions and then work toward permanent jobs.
"We'll have the best bus-makers in the world building the MiDi here in St. Cloud," said Wood, who has been at the St. Cloud facility for five years after working for a different bus company in Atlanta.
Initial deliveries will go to dealerships. In February, New Flyer announced Faribault-based ABC Cos. has the exclusive distribution rights in North America. When the first ones arrive, it will be the end of a long process. New Flyer and ADL announced their joint venture almost exactly two years ago.
New Flyer had planned its market launch for early last year. It was January before the first test buses with components from ADL began progressing down the line. To help jump-start production, some of the materials initially are being delivered to St. Cloud from vendors in the United Kingdom. In time, New Flyer plans to switch that to U.S.-based suppliers, especially so any of the buses that might be purchased with the help of federal funds will be compliant with requirements to buy materials in America.
"Giving birth to a bus is a 29-week process," Wood said. "That's from line order to when it rolls out. But of course people say, 'Don't tell me about the labor, show me the baby.' We hope by the end of this year the MiDi will represent about 12 percent of what we do. With the New Flyer and ADL name on it, we think it's going to be a popular, reliable product, so we expect that to grow. It's an opportunity for New Flyer — and an opportunity for St. Cloud."