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Siemens plant propels wind-industry interest

South-central Kansas' future as a wind energy hub is rising out of a field on Hutchinson's southeast side.

Work is progressing on Siemens' $50 million, 300,000-square-foot nacelle manufacturing plant just off Airport Road. The first products are due out in December.

And the company is adding staff, city officials said, hiring salaried workers and sorting through a pile of almost 2,000 applications for production work from a June job fair in Hutchinson.

"They're not taking more applications so they can process what they've received," said former Kansas Senate president Dave Kerr, the Hutchinson Chamber president who led the city's bid for Siemens.

"And they've got a number of people assigned to it, too."

The facility, which includes a service center on the site, will employ 400 people and produce an estimated 650 nacelles annually.

Nacelles are the oblong structures at the top of wind towers that include the generators, gears and electronics.

"It's a big deal for us," Reno County Commissioner Frances Garcia said. "It couldn't have come at a better time for our economy."

Meanwhile, a builder of wind turbine bases has acquired land in Newton for a plant, and Wichita economic officials are targeting the growing industry for more jobs.

"We have wind supply (and) twice the national average of skilled manufacturers," said Vicki Pratt Gerbino, president of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition.

The Siemens plant has triggered regionwide interest in wind power as an economic driver.

"We're very pleased if our project has had a beneficial effect on surrounding communities," Kerr said. "We are the beneficiary in Hutchinson of a very strong state and local effort, so it's only right that the entire region gain some long-term benefits."

Siemens said it has referred some suppliers to state and local economic development groups.

"We are aware of several suppliers that are considering Kansas," Siemens' Roger Brown said in an e-mail.

Newton and Harvey County officials already have landed Tindall, a builder of bases for wind turbines, for the Kansas Logistics Park.

"Wind power is what we've been looking at and talking about with the Kansas Logistics Park for two years," said Mickey Fornaro-Dean, executive director of the Harvey County Economic Development Council. "We see our logistics park as an industrial logistics park, but we're leading with wind energy."

Two big reasons for leading with wind energy, Fornaro-Dean said: Available land and transportation.

"We started looking at our process and project with U.S. 50 in mind, along our corridor," she said. "And in doing our due diligence, we saw a lot of opportunities with alternative and wind energy. It doesn't hurt anything at all that Siemens is 30 miles west of us and Tindall has decided to locate with us.

"We look at it as starting the opportunities in this corridor."

That's exactly the effect Hutchinson and Reno County officials hoped for when they landed Siemens, Kerr said.

"We clearly expect to build off of Siemens in two ways," Kerr said.

"There will be a number of suppliers to their plant. They will be bringing over a billion dollars a year worth of inputs into the facility, and some of those suppliers will land not only in our community but surrounding communities as well.

"And then there's the effect of putting us onto the radar of other companies. The very favorable publicity the Siemens project has provided causes other companies to say, 'Siemens knows what they're doing, so Kansas better be on our potential list.' Doors have already been opened, not only for Hutchinson but other areas."

Wichita economic development officials have wind energy plants on their radar, too. Gerbino said her group has targeted wind and solar energy firms.

Another opportunity, she said, is to link the region's aviation subcontractors to builders like Siemens.

"They already know that if a shop in this region has been a tier 1 supplier or a tier 2 direct to Spirit, say, then if they're able to make that kind of cut over time they have the manufacturing capacity that Siemens or any other big boys in the energy field might need," Gerbino said.

Siemens' Brown said the company is working with some Kansas suppliers.

"Local suppliers will have an advantage of favorable delivery costs but will need to overcome the challenges of a rigorous supplier qualification process and of global pricing levels," he said.

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