At AWEA’s supply chain workshop in Greensboro, North Carolina this week, the hotel security folks were on the alert—they had been warned that some anti-wind demonstrators from the Western part of the state were going to show up and were bringing fellow protesters from the adjacent state of Virginia.
But no demonstrators showed up. Maybe they realized that wind, which creates jobs and energy without pollution, is hard to be against, especially at a time when many Americans are still hurting economically.
There were about 400 attendees at the workshop and, judging by a show of hands, it appeared that at least half were new to the industry. They were the go-getter types who are trying to figure out how and where they could enter the growing industry. It’s hard to protest that kind of spirit—it’s pure America.
So far, North Carolina has no wind projects, but it does have the prospect of wind projects offshore and in the mountains in the western part of the state. It also has wind manufacturing facilities that employ more than 1,000 workers.
North Carolina also has experienced some controversy about whether wind turbines should be allowed on so-called ridge lines in the state's western mountains, with some local legislators trying to enact a law that would ban all but the smallest turbines that could only be attached to individual residences.
Wind proponents in the state are appalled. “This is as close to a ban as they could get without saying so,” warned Dennis Scanlin of Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.
Back at the workshop, where the demonstrators never appeared, the attendees were more focused on getting into the business. The last panel—always the hardest to get attendance for—included three case studies of companies that are creating manufacturing jobs in the southeast, including North Carolina. They did not make it sound easy. Finding a niche in the manufacturing process that, for example, has been based overseas, or is well-established here, takes research, ingenuity, and dedication.
Said Cheryl Richards of PPG Industries, which has retooled significantly to adapt its fiber glass expertise to wind energy: “You have to think through all the stages of product development. You have to be persistent. It’s not going to happen overnight.” Craig Lawson, Renewable Energy Business Development Manager for Burndy, a New Hampshire company with some manufacturing in this region and elsewhere, said, “It’s a matter of figuring out where you can fit into the supply chain, and how you can add value. You have to know who you are.”
Earlier, Pat Thacker, a supply chain expert with Areva Renewables, warned would-be entrants that they should enjoy the thrill of riding a roller coaster if they plan to enter the industry. “It tends to be an up and down market,” he said.
Considering the experience the industry has been through in the last few years, that is an understatement.