Release Date: March 1, 2010

New North Inc. capitalizes on emerging alternative energy industry in Northeastern Wisconsin

The Post-Crescent

When Jerry Murphy sees a power-generating wind turbine, he sees a business opportunity and hopes others share his vision.

"I think we're doing OK," said Murphy, executive director of the New North Inc., an economic development organization, representing 18 counties across northeast Wisconsin. "We've done a good job of educating the businesses here."

For the past three years, Murphy and the New North have worked to promote the region and state as component supply center for the emerging wind power generating industry. New North has identified more than 300 companies across the state and Michigan's Upper Peninsula that can either install or produce a wind turbine component. Murphy stresses now is the time to seize the opportunity. Wind could generate as much as 20 percent of the nation's power needs by 2030, according to a Department of Energy report.

While Murphy is encouraged by New North's efforts, he understands the push must continue and Wisconsin must establish where it can effectively position itself.

"The turbine industry still is an off-shore dominated world," he said. "So we have to think of who our consuming public is."

Murphy is referring to the manufacturers of wind turbines and its numerous components. "There's hundreds of first- and second-tier suppliers that work with the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)," he said. Murphy believes the opportunity is with turbine component makers.

"The OEMs don't just buy the parts they need from one supplier, they look at the competition to maintain their own pricing structure," he said. "I think we're making inroads here."

Rollie Stephenson, chief executive officer of Faith Technologies, a Menasha-based electrical contractor, agrees that wind power presents opportunities for many Fox Valley businesses. "We've been doing turbine work for several years now," he said.

Stephenson's company has installed the internal wiring for many turbines around the country. Stephenson said as government mandates require more power to be produced by clean sources, it was inevitable additional wind turbines will be installed around the country.

"The government is offering all kinds of incentives to make it worthwhile to install turbines," he said. Major wind farms aren't the only areas of opportunity. Stephenson referred to a recently announced project by SCA Tissue, which plans to raise four wind turbines in time for the 40th Earth Day celebration in April at its Service Excellence Center on U.S. 10 west of Menasha.

"Some of these smaller projects also are starting to pop up and get off the ground," Stephenson said.

"These projects also need components made and companies to install and maintain them." Bob DeKoch, president and chief operating officer of the Appleton-based construction services firm The Boldt Co., has served as co-chairman of the New North since its inception in 2006.

Through his work with Boldt, DeKoch has witnessed the clean energy industry grow from fad to mainstream. When New North launched, one of its focuses was to key in on emerging industries.

"We knew we had to target markets that would be growth sectors for the region," DeKoch said. "It was out of this effort that the wind initiative came."

About three years ago, New North took part in a wind energy trade show presented by the American Wind Energy Association. Several northeast Wisconsin businesses were part of New North's contingent.

"Today, that group represents more than 300 businesses," Murphy said. "What we're doing is a layered approach," he said. "We're building greater awareness of the New North at various entry points in this emerging industry."

DeKoch said New North's mission is to market the region and what it has to offer. "Regional economics stretches beyond any one city's or county's lines," he said. "The concept has been around for a long time. Napa Valley and Silicon Valley are perfect examples of regions that embraced a specific economy and benefitted from it."

Promoting the assets of an entire region makes a stronger statement, DeKoch said. "When you draw the circle bigger and look at all the assets within that circle, you stand a far better chance of attracting and retaining business," he said.

This concept also works when selling the New North as a wind turbine supply center, DeKoch said. "We realized we had a number of companies that already were participating in the supply chain and others were interested and wanted to get involved," he said. "So when you can collaborate and have a whole market behind you, you'll make a bigger impact than any single company ever could."

DeKoch called New North's efforts to be a player in the growing wind turbine market unique. "New North is a collaborating force," he said. "If we can create larger collaborations it can create larger value."