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Brazil native found his niche in Wichita as aviation parts supplier

Clovis Ribas, president of Shuttle Aerospace in southeast Wichita, 2106 E. Industrial, grew up in a little town south of Sao Paulo in Brazil.

Until he came to Wichita, Ribas never dreamed he’d one day own his own business.

Ribas, 48, his wife, Sueli, and their two daughters arrived in the U.S. on July 4, 1999, and became U.S. citizens two years ago.

“It is still by far the country that provides the most of the opportunities for anybody that wants to do something,” Ribas said. “This country is so economically strong – so many different resources that make your opportunities much easier.”

He wouldn’t be in business as a supplier to the aviation industry building machine-made parts if he wasn’t in Wichita, he said.

“This is the only place in the world that has that kind of network,” Ribas said. “It would be virtually impossible anywhere else.”

In other places, “everything is so difficult to reach,” Ribas said. “You don’t have a city like Wichita where you’re a 10-minute drive away to get equipment (or) manpower. The fact that you have a network of businesses and other people and other entrepreneurs and everything (here) ... makes your life much easier.”

Those businesses already comply with the federal regulations inherent in the industry, which is key.

Ribas grew up in Urai, a town of 14,000 people in the state of Parana in Brazil. His parents and siblings remain in Brazil.

Ribas met his wife while both were in engineering school in Brazil. After school, he joined Embraer, where his specialty was landing gear design. While at Embraer, Ribas earned a master’s degree in aerospace engineering in England. He also holds a master’s in business administration from Wichita State University.

In 1997, Ribas took a job with Bombardier and moved the family to Montreal.

Two years later, he came to Wichita on assignment at Bombardier’s Learjet facility.

He never left.

He became a permanent employee at Learjet in 2003. In 2004, he and his wife bought Shuttle Machine, with two small machines and a contract for 43 components from what is now Beechcraft Corp.

Ribas hired general manager Russ Haug, a WSU engineering student at the time, to run the business while he continued to work for Learjet.

“The biggest strike of luck was finding someone like Russ,” Ribas said. “He ran the company. He still does. I’m here now with him as we do it together. For the longest time, he was by himself.”

Ribas left Learjet in October. His wife remains a key partner at Shuttle. One daughter is working there during summer break from college.

Shuttle now employs 20 and continues to add employees, customers and equipment.

“We normally grow at the rate of 20 to 30 percent per year,” Ribas said.

Shuttle is close to signing a contract for land on which it wants to build a 25,000-square-foot building at Bel Aire’s new Sunflower Commerce Park.

“That’s the plan,” he said.

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