Wind Turbine Plant is Good News for Jonesboro

Wind turbine manufacturing plant in Jonesboro, Arkansas
The plant in Jonesboro will produce 300 wind turbines a year by 2014.

A new wind turbine manufacturing plant in Jonesboro, Arkansas is good news for a local economy that’s been hard hit by the loss of industrial jobs in recent years.

Nordex USA, based in Chicago, broke ground on its $40 million wind turbine nacelle manufacturing plant last September at a 187-acre site in Craighead Technology Park, and completed construction in July of this year. The plant includes 115,000 square feet of production space, 35,000 square feet of office space, and a 10,000 square foot Training Academy, critical in keeping workers up-to-date with advancing technology.

The company is holding a Grand Opening ceremony today to celebrate completion of the plant and the start of production. Ralf Sigrist, President and CEO of Nordex USA, commented, “Two years ago, we announced our intention to make Nordex wind turbines in the US, for the US. Today we’re putting our hands to the metal and doing it. We hope Congress will do the same by finally passing meaningful renewable energy legislation.”

Besides manufacturing components for renewable energy systems, the plant itself takes advantage of clean energy technology; heating and cooling at the plant is powered entirely by geothermal energy. Sigrist explained that this investment will pay for itself within 12 years and will save considerable amounts over the long run.

Building a Skilled Renewable Energy Workforce

Nordex understands that a skilled workforce is essential in this environment, and that building that resource may require international cooperation. Joe Brenner, Vice President of Production for Nordex, says, “There’s no way to do this without international exchange. Wind energy has tremendous potential in the US, but it’s about more than just creating green jobs. We have to transfer expertise in order to build a wind industry workforce. Nordex is investing in such a workforce and bringing the needed skills to America.”

Consequently, the first task for the Jonesboro production crew, hired earlier this year, was completing a 10-week intensive training program at Nordex’s flagship plant in Rostock, Germany. Now back in the US, training will continue during the initial phase of production as the team works alongside their German counterparts for several months.

To date, Nordex has hired about 150 employees in the US, including 54 in Jonesboro. About 80% of the workforce in Jonesboro, including operations staff, office support, supply management, production engineering, and quality assurance, are local residents. The workforce for the nacelle plant will eventually reach at least 240 people as the plant approaches full capacity over the next two and a half years.

But job prospects won’t end there.

Brenner explains, “We expect to be producing up to 300 wind turbines a year by 2014. It will take a highly-skilled, well-trained workforce of around 700 people to make that happen. So we’re looking at a strong ramp-up and an aggressive recruiting and training program.”

Supporting this agenda, Nordex will build a second plant, dedicated to assembling rotor blades. That $60 million facility is expected to begin production in late 2012.

The Nordex plant in Jonesboro will be an original equipment manufacturer producing one of the largest classes of utility-scale wind turbines in the world, the 2.5 megawatt N90 and N100 turbines. Each of these turbines is capable of generating enough renewable energy to power about 700 typical American homes. Nordex built the first turbines this large in 2000 and holds the longest track record for reliability in the multi-megawatt class.

Good News for Arkansas

All of this is good news for a community like Jonesboro. According to the 2011 Arkansas Manufacturers Register (published by Manufacturers’ News, Inc.), Arkansas has lost more than 20,000 manufacturing jobs over the past two years, with overall industrial employment down 9%. Tom Dubin, President of Manufacturers’ News, commented, “Decreased demand continues to affect Arkansas’ manufacturing industries, particularly the transportation sector and industries related to the housing market.”

Offsetting this decline, Nordex is localizing its supply chain wherever possible, creating additional jobs through the contracting of services to firms in the wider Jonesboro area. Steel components manufacturer Beckmann Volmer, for example, will supply parts to Nordex from a planned $10 million factory employing 500 people in neighboring Osceola.

Joe Brenner sees this as the birth of a new local industry. “We want to foster a neighborhood of local wind players around Jonesboro. Logistically, it’s more efficient to share a backyard than to ship large components cross-country.” And Ralf Sigrist commented, “We are positioning ourselves for the market surge around the corner. We are absolutely confident that the US wind market will be the biggest in the world. ‘Made-in-Arkansas’ is at the core of our strategy to win.”

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