Blade facility lands in Colorado -- Vestas starts US manufacture

The first US manufacturing plant for Denmark's Vestas is headed for Colorado after the company flirted for several years with Portland, Oregon, where it has its US administrative headquarters. The $60 million factory destined for the town of Windsor in Weld County, Colorado, will produce 1200 blades a year after ramping up to a staff of over 400 by spring 2008.

Local and state incentives played a key role in attracting Vestas, says Jeff Holwell of the state's Economic Development Office. This includes a $928,000 grant for Vestas to train its new workforce. "It was definitely communicated to us [by Vestas] that start up training is a significant cost, especially since they have such a unique technology and product." Vestas could also qualify for payouts from the state's job creation fund, which provides between $1000 and $3000 per employee if the jobs meet certain requirements, such as paying at least 110% of the average wage in the county.

Holwell, who courts businesses of every stripe to set up shop in Colorado, says the move is telling for the Danish wind giant. "They have facilities worldwide so the fact they are willing to invest in North America means a) they are doing well as a company and b) they see North America as a market for future growth from coast to coast." Local incentives at the town and county level amount to about a half million dollars over a ten year period via a 50% reduction in town and county personal property taxes, according to Larry Burkhardt of the Upstate Colorado Economic Development office.

In addition to Windsor's central location in the US and close access to rail lines, Burkhardt says the quality of the local workforce helped seal the deal. "I don't want to understate that fact." He says there are many industrial manufacturing businesses in the area and a community college, both of which his office was able to provide Vestas access to for possible employees. "The quality of [Vestas'] workforce is very important to them. They don't just have a "human resource" person; they have a People and Culture department!"

Vestas has more than 12,000 employees worldwide and produces more than a quarter of the world's wind turbines. In addition to the attraction of its central location, Colorado is home to the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory. It is also a fertile state for wind development thanks to a green energy mandate -- which is on its way to being strengthened by state lawmakers (page 45). The US facility is one of two new Vestas blade plants, the other being in Spain, which the company says will together cost EUR 90 million while increasing annual blade production by 2400, enough for 800 turbines.

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