The Gainesville, Ga., factory rings of 20th-Century manufacturing muscle, if only for the materials with which it works: gears and steel. Yet when you glimpse the inside of the plant in the latest episode of WindTV, what you see is all 21st Century: a plant floor so pristine it shines, clusters of workers using high-tech machinery to assemble components, and team members collaborating to produce the end product.
WASHINGTON—The Gainesville, Ga., factory rings of 20th-Century manufacturing muscle, if only for the materials with which it works: gears and steel. Yet when you glimpse the inside of the plant in the latest episode of WindTV, what you see is all 21st Century: a plant floor so pristine it shines, clusters of workers using high-tech machinery to assemble components, and team members collaborating to produce the end product.
At the ZF Wind Power plant, workers produce custom-built gearboxes for the wind power industry. The opening of the Gainesville plant represents a $98 million investment in the company’s wind energy operations in the state of Georgia. The company—and Johnny Alemany, team leader on the Assembly, Test and Paint line at the plant—are the subjects of the latest episode of WindTV, the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) series of video shorts to highlight how wind works for America.
“The wind industry makes me feel wonderful,” Alemany says in the segment, speaking right from the plant floor. “I love coming to work. We have a great team here at the assembly line. We all work as a team.”
Alemany, who came to the area from Buffalo, N.Y., is one of the 75,000 Americans employed in all aspects of wind energy. In fact, ZF Wind Power has quite a few neighbors in the region serving the industry. The Southeast is home to over 90 manufacturing plants that are part of wind power’s expanding U.S. supply chain.
That’s one reason why the largest annual wind industry event in the world, the WINDPOWER Conference & Exhibition, will be held in Atlanta this year. WINDPOWER 2012, taking place June 3-6, will feature 900-plus exhibitors occupying a show floor spanning nearly five football fields and an educational program consisting of nearly 50 sessions.
But in spite of the vibrancy of the industry, wind power jobs are being threatened. The federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), wind power’s primary policy driver, is set to expire at the end of the year, and already the supply chain is feeling the effects of the uncertainty. A recent study found that extending the PTC will allow the industry to grow to 100,000 jobs in just four years, while an expiration will kill 37,000 jobs.
ZF Wind Power employs 150 people, including more than 60 highly skilled manufacturing technicians. Plant manager Carolin Wolfsdoerfer recently put the importance of the PTC in plain terms. “In the short term, ZF is seeking to add 110 jobs, and the PTC would help ensure the stable policy and low taxes which accelerate job growth and economic development for the wind energy industry,” she said. “A delay in the extension of the PTC causes a drop-off in wind turbine orders, which slows down our ability to add jobs. It also affects the entire supply chain as well. We source all of our steel from North America, so when we have a lower volume of orders our suppliers—the forging companies, the casting companies and the steel mills—will experience a downturn as well.”
Highlighting the 25 years of American manufacturing roots of her company, Wolfsdoerfer explained that ZF has another plant in nearby Gainesville that builds transmissions. “Our sister facility has been part of the community for years, and we have people employed there who have been with us for the duration,” she said. “We are continuing to build on that tradition of growth success in Gainesville with ZF Wind Power.”
“Thanks to companies like ZF Wind Power, our industry has become a strong and dynamic job-creating engine for America,” said AWEA CEO Denise Bode. “We urge Congress to extend the wind energy Production Tax Credit as soon as possible, so that the many companies that make up wind power’s supply chain can continue to fill orders.”
WindTV is a showcase of video profiles of Americans whose lives have been positively impacted by the wind energy industry. The site, located at www.awea.org/windtv, features a different video profile each week.
To hear more about ZF, go to WindTV. For more information on WINDPOWER 2012, go to www.windpowerexpo.org.