Winds of change are blowing across the central Illinois economy. Companies such as SMF, a machine shop in Minonk with 120 employees, are finding that the growth of wind energy in the state not only creates an environmental benefit, but also provides jobs.
Winds of change are blowing across the central Illinois economy.
Companies such as SMF, a machine shop in Minonk with 120 employees, are finding that the growth of wind energy in the state not only creates an environmental benefit, but also provides jobs.
"We're in our third year of making parts for the wind industry. We still do work for Caterpillar and other fabrication work but now we're hooked up with all the main wind players," said Paul Halvorson, SMF's chief financial officer.
The future looks downright gusty with a federal mandate to have 20 percent of the nation's power by generated by wind by 2030, he said.
"About 4,000 to 5,000 (wind) towers are now going up nationally every year. That's expected to increase to 15,000 towers annually, starting next year," said Halvorson, whose firm supplies anchor rings for wind power companies throughout the United States and Canada.
The move toward wind power also involves area companies such as Blackshor Services, an area business involved in landscaping, snow removal and tower installations for 30 years. Earlier this year, Blackshor became a dealer of wind turbines, offering a variety of models for home and businesses.
"When the turbine produces more power than the house needs, the meter spins backwards, creating a credit that can be used later," said Kim Blackburn, wife of Blackshor owner George Blackburn.
Blackshor offers three models of turbines, ranging in price from $16,000 to $95,000, she said.
A new tax credit now helps defray 30 percent of the total installed cost of the turbine, said Blackburn.
The wind energy industry in Illinois is projected to generate $1.9 billion in economic benefits for the state over the next 25 years, according to Illinois State University's Center for Renewable Energy.
Wind power not only generates energy but jobs for the state, according to the center, adding that wind generation projects in Illinois through March of this year have accounted for 6,000 full-time jobs with a total payroll of over $300 million.
"There are opportunities for businesses, despite the worst recession since the 1930s," said Bob Weinstein, president of the Illinois Manufacturing Extension Center at Bradley University, one of 11 offices around the state that help Illinois manufacturers stay competitive.
"One of the most difficult challenges facing companies these days is diversification, going after new markets with new products," he said.
A recent seminar on wind-power opportunities drew more than 200 people, said Weinstein.
"Some companies learn that (wind power) is not for them. In this economy, companies can't afford to make unwise investments," he said.
Companies need to find out if they can get in on so-called second-tier manufacturing, providing parts to another manufacturer, said Weinstein.
The potential is there for those that can make the adjustments, he said. "The market for (wind energy) manufacturing is expected to grow 10 to 15 times what it is now. Much of what's now produced overseas will be manufactured here," said Weinstein.
Grants are available for businesses that look to make changes, he said.
Small and mid-sized companies can get more information on competitive grants at the Business and Financial Resources Workshop being offered by the Procurement Technical Assistance Center at Illinois Central College from 8 to 10 a.m. Sept. 1 at the Peoria NEXT Innovation Center, 801 W. Main St.
State officials said $100 million in federal stimulus money is now available that will allow Illinois to develop new programs and expand current programs in order to fund energy projects.
Applications for many of the programs are due by Oct. 1. "There's new money for green energy with grants up to $5 million," said Weinstein.
IMEC will host another wind-power conference in conjunction with Western Illinois University in Macomb on Oct. 22, with more programs to follow, said Weinstein.
"There are other opportunities and growing markets for manufacturers (along with wind power). Nuclear power is beginning to re-emerge. Each nuclear plant represents an $8 billion construction project so there are a lot of opportunities for suppliers," he said.
Other growing fields include medical instrumentation and the defense industry, said Weinstein.
Steve Tarter can be reached at (309) 686-3260 or email@example.com.