WARRENTON - Lektro has a lot to celebrate these days. It's the company's 60th year in business, it recently delivered its 2,500th electric aircraft tug, and Thursday company owner Eric Paulson joined a slew of dignitaries in breaking ground on Lektro's expansion project at the Astoria Regional Airport.

"What an exciting day," Paulson said, recounting how in six decades the company has gone from manufacturing golf carts to making tugs for moving airplanes around, and now supplies about 80 percent of the regional air carrier market.

Major airlines have expressed interest in the tugs as well, he said, attracted by the company's high quality and relatively inexpensive product.

"We'll compete anywhere in the world," Paulson told the crowd.

With the 15,000-square-foot expansion to the 68,000-square-foot existing facility, the company will be able to quadruple its manufacturing capability and will have the space to make larger tugs. The company's offices can now move from their current location - a 1970s single-wide mobile home - to real offices on the second floor of the plant.

There were significant hurdles for the expansion project however, Paulson said. There wasn't enough of an existing water supply for fire suppression, so a new water line would have to be built. With that cost, plus those associated with having to build machines here and ship them across the country, it appeared the company couldn't afford to stay in Warrenton.

The project was pulled off through partnerships with public groups like the Northwest Oregon Economic Alliance, he said, adding that the company wants to show the city, the county, and the state that a company can expand in Clatsop County and be successful.

The company hopes to add 40 to 50 jobs in the first five years, Paulson said.

He thanked Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who attended the ceremony, for his leadership and direction, saying "he took the position and he actually made it happen."

Kulongoski in turn thanked Paulson, saying that businesses like Lektro make Oregon's economy strong and provide the state with its good quality of life. The governor also thanked those in the different agencies and governments that have helped with the project, saying they made the decision to help Lektro stay in the community.

"This community actually reflects what I think are the best attributes of our state," Kulongoski said. He also recognized the efforts of airport manager Ron Larsen.

Paulson also got kudos and best wishes from Port Executive Director Peter Gearin, Port Commission President Larry Pfund, Astoria Mayor Willis Van Dusen, Warrenton Mayor Gil Gramson and Clatsop County Commission Chairman Richard Lee, as well as state Sen. Betsy Johnson, who couldn't make the ceremony but sent a letter of congratulations.

- Kate Ramsayer