Local WindTronics turbine firm picks Ontario over Muskegon for production

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Excuse local economic developers for not being as excited about the recent flood of positive press for the Muskegon-based WindTronics residential wind turbine as they are in Windsor, Ontario

Muskegon’s bid to manufacture the turbine based on technology developed at the local Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Research Center has been lost to Windsor.

WindTronics officials say the company has accepted a $2.7 million Ontario government grant to initially produce the turbines in a vacant auto parts plant on Windsor’s west side. The company also will invest $2.7 million in a manufacturing operation that will create up to 200 jobs in the next two to three years, company and provincial officials announced.

A proposal for a Muskegon manufacturing site was backed by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. based on a $500,000 upfront loan and a $3.7 million, 10-year tax break. WindTronics officials selected the proposal with substantially more money up front.

“Michigan really pulled up the rear of what we had as choices,” said WindTronics President Reg Adams. “Ontario, Canada, has an aggressive ‘green’ initiative. We needed to make this first-plant decision quickly.”

Since announcing the decision to go to Windsor to produce the wind turbine — which was developed by former MAREC Director Imad Mahawili — the new product was named “one of the 10 most brilliant products of 2009” by Popular Mechanics and was an “innovation” feature on Inc. Magazine’s Web site. The unit carries a Honeywell brand, as WindTronics has a development agreement with the technology giant.

Local officials were disappointed in the Muskegon company’s decision to manufacture elsewhere.

“It’s unfortunate,” Muskegon City Manager Bryon Mazade said. “We made a good pitch, both locally and through the state. We couldn’t have done anything more than we did.

“Hopefully this venture does well,” Mazade said of a company with headquarters in the Hines Building in downtown Muskegon. “It has great potential.”

Adams said the Michigan proposal was topped by not only Ontario but other U.S. states such as Oregon.

“Property tax abatements are out of date for today’s business strategies,” Adams said of Michigan’s proposal.

Ontario’s $2.7 million grant is contingent on generating 200 jobs in the next five years. Without the jobs, the company will have to pay back the grant, Adams said.

Customer service for the Honeywell/WindTronics units will be in the company’s downtown Muskegon headquarters, which currently has 16 staff and continues to hire, he said.

WindTronics is a separate company of EarthTronics, the firm formed in Muskegon two years ago to import, distribute and market various energy-efficient products such as light bulbs and fixtures.

According to the company, the Honeywell Wind Turbine operates in the lightest of breezes — beginning at 2 mph — and produces electricity at the turbine blade tips rather than traditionally in a gearbox in the hub. The system produces 18 percent of a typical household electrical use in a 165-pound, 6-foot diameter unit retailing for $5,500, company officials said

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