Duluth area in running for 1,500 jobsThe Northland has emerged as one of two finalists for an international wind energy company’s expansion in the United States.
By: Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune, Pine Journal
The Northland has emerged as one of two finalists for an international wind energy company’s expansion in the United States.
If the area is chosen, plants making massive wind turbine systems could be built in Duluth, Superior and on the Iron Range by 2011, creating up to 1,500 good-paying jobs, said Rob West, CEO of the Area Partnership for Economic Expansion, or APEX.
On the Iron Range, a plant making the huge 180-foot-long blades could have 700 employees over time. And in Duluth, a plant making the 200,000-pound tower-top units could open with 150 to 200 workers and employ up to 600 employees over three years. Jobs — including those for assemblers, machinists, welders, engineers and lift operators — could pay $15 to $21 per hour, depending on the skills required, West said.
West was part of a Northland contingent that traveled to Atlanta last week to convince company representatives to locate their plants here. Along with APEX were representatives from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and Iron Range Resources.
“It was successful,” West said Wednesday. “We had a very compelling case, a good presentation. We were told we were definitely one of two under final consideration.”
The global company, which West said he can’t yet identify because of a nondisclosure agreement, is based in Europe and is well-established elsewhere in the world, he said.
The company needs multiple plants to make the enormous components of its wind turbine systems for power companies, including towers, blades and nacelles (the tower top units with the generating components, gearbox and drive train). It needs proximity to a working port and interstate highway system to transport components. And it needs an educated and skilled labor force that knows how to make big stuff.
The Northland has all that, as well as a “wonderful sense of place,” adding to its appeal, West said.
“They said we have some very compelling arguments, including our skilled labor force, having a very active international seaport here that shipped more than 300,000 tons of wind components in 2008,” he said.
The company’s U.S. site search started with 10 or 11 locations, which were narrowed to four in the Midwest. After last week’s presentations, it fell to two.
“It’s a lot like athletics,” West said. “You go into the tournament, get down to the final two, then it’s a shoot-out among the final two.”
The other finalist hasn’t been identified but possibilities include Illinois, Michigan or Ohio.
“Just the fact that we are this competitive, getting this far in the process is a good indication of our competitiveness,” said Duluth Mayor Don Ness, complimenting the work done by West and his team. “Whether we’re successful with this opportunity or the next, it should give us a sense of optimism for our ability to compete in this new industry.”
That new industry and interest in wind comes as power companies face state mandates to decrease carbon emissions and shift to more renewable energy.
West expects the European company will choose its U.S. site in June or July, and construction to begin in late 2010 at the earliest.