Wind turbine plant in Novi to create 250 jobs

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A wind turbine assembly plant opening later this year in Novi could give the region’s sputtering economy a much-needed lift by creating about 250 manufacturing jobs

Global Wind Systems Inc. will begin hiring skilled assembly line tradespeople as soon as May to staff the new facility — Michigan’s first manufacturer of delivery-ready, large-scale wind turbines.

The 74-ton turbines that will roll off the plant’s assembly line will be used by utility companies and wind farm developers for generating commercial wind power.

“We’re the guys that put together the final assembly of these turbines and complete the customer care for the people that consume our products in the field,” said Chris Long, founder and CEO for Global Wind Systems.

The alternative energy company, which now has about 20 employees, was founded in September and is investing $32 million to establish the plant, which will be an original equipment manufacturer or OEM for wind turbines.

The company received $7.3 million in tax credits from the Michigan Economic Growth Authority in December to create 256 direct jobs over six years. Long said the company likely will grow well beyond that number within two years — to more than 400 employees — and hopes to source components for its 1.5 megawatt turbines to in-state suppliers, a move that could support thousands of additional manufacturing jobs.

Wind equipment manufacturing is a fledgling industry in Michigan. Last year a new state mandate gave the industry a boost requiring Michigan utilities to generate at least 10 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources, such as wind, solar and biomass fuels, by 2015.

More than two dozen companies have sprung up or diversified into wind parts manufacturing, helping to establish a supply chain in Michigan that will feed components to assembly plants, like the one being built by Global Wind Systems. The renewable energy mandate has prompted utility companies such as DTE Energy Corp. in Detroit to invest heavily into wind power generation, as well.

DTE, for instance, has put 56,000 acres of land in easements for constructing Michigan wind farms, company officials said.

State leaders say Michigan’s technological know-how and manufacturing expertise for milling large volumes of precision parts make it ideal for building and assembling wind energy equipment.

“We’re used to building and finishing various metal parts for the auto industry. Wind turbines need gear boxes and ball bearings, too,” said John Sarver, chairman of the Michigan Wind Working Group, a part of the state’s Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth.

There is plenty of opportunity for suppliers to machine wind components, Sarver said, noting that each turbine consists of about 8,000 precision parts.

Global Wind Systems will initially draw many of its parts from Europe, where wind technology has matured faster than in the U.S. Long, however, hopes his business will help better define a supply chain in Michigan. The company has vetted more than 500 Michigan suppliers that could machine turbine parts.

“From that activity, this is when the real job growth happens,” Long said, adding it could result in more than 8,000 supplier-based manufacturing jobs.

Long, who once built and designed plants for the auto industry, said his plant will begin ramping up production in the second half of 2009 and hopes to get to full capacity by 2010. At that point, it will churn out 400 turbine units a year, each with a price tag of about $2 million, Long said, likening the wind generators to a “70-ton school bus on a flagpole.”

Asked whether the openings at the assembly plant would be well-suited for displaced autoworkers, Long replied: “Absolutely.”

Global Wind Systems is working with MichiganWorks! to publicize the jobs as well as using media advertising.

It may not have to do much more. “We’ve received several thousand resumes up to this point,” Long said, adding that more than 90 percent of applicants listed automotive experience.

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