By Eric Peterson | Jul 28, 2014
Brighton, Windsor, and Pueblo, Colorado
16,000 worldwide; 2,000 in Colorado
Wind power technology and products
Headquarters: Aarhus, Denmark
North American Headquarters: Portland, Oregon
North American Manufacturing: Brighton, Windsor, and Pueblo, Colorado
Publicly traded (VWS:Copenhagen)
Employees: 16,000 worldwide; 2,000 in Colorado
The wind is blowing in the right direction for Vestas, the global leader in wind power, and that's a boon for job creation in Colorado.
All of the Danish company's North American manufacturing takes place at four factories in the Centennial State.
Why Colorado? "Part of it is just simple economics," explains Adam Serchuk, the company's senior director for marketing and communications in North America. ”That reflects two things. The cost of transportation -- we make very large components and it costs a lot to ship them. Ocean transport is very expensive."
"The other aspect is currency risk," he continues. "You've got the dollar-euro question mark." With production in Colorado, "You've got dollar costs and dollar revenues lining up."
Beyond Xcel Energy's sizable local investments in wind generation, Colorado was specifically chosen due to its location in the heart of wind country, Serchuk continues. "The wind belt runs from Texas to northern Alberta and we needed strong rail access to all of those areas."
In 2008, a blade factory opened in Windsor, followed by a power tube plant in Pueblo and a blade factory and nacelle assembly facility in Brighton. (Nacelles are are the "gearboxes” atop the wind turbine that house all of the IT components, says Serchuk.)
All told, the four locations employ 2,000 and that number should hit 2,800 by the end of 2014.
Serchuk says that strong demand underpins the hiring spree. "We have seen in the last 18 months a pretty strong sales record. This calendar year of 2014 alone, we've announced 1,255 megawatts of orders for the United States and Canada." That represents about 500 to 600 two- and three-megawatt turbines in all.
But demand has spiked even more since June. "Just in the last month or so, we've announced four orders in the United States for 370 turbines."
Thus the immediate need for labor. "These facilities are busy today and they could be busy through the end of 2015," says Serchuk. "And we're not done selling. There's a pretty healthy order book. We've worked very hard to get the company pointed in the right direction."
In large part, Vestas' strengths stem from its size and experience, says Serchuk. "We're the global market-share leader and we've been around a long time," he explains. "We installed our first wind turbines in the United States in the early 1980s, and we've installed in 73 countries to date in a huge number of different operating conditions."
Vestas has more than 14,000 installations to date in North America alone -- enough to power about four million households.
This footprint ultimately means the company has been able to harvest data from turbines in just about every kind of climactic zone, from spots with mere breezes to places with "screaming winds" like the Texas Panhandle.
"We use that data and recycle it into the R&D process," explains Serchuk, a process that leads to better wind turbines and more efficient wind generation.
Not only has the market bounced back and technology improved, but Vestas has nicely executed on a turnaround plan. The company posted a profit in the first quarter of 2014 after a nine-quarter losing streak.
Challenges: The sometimes fickle politics of energy policy in the U.S. and Canada. Serchuk says Vestas is "optimistic” for pro-wind policies moving forward. "We think the U.S. and Canada are moving in the right direction," he says. No matter which direction the political winds are blowing, however, the company needs to focus on its core competencies, he adds. "We need to do what we do. Wind turbines are no different than toasters in that respect."
Opportunities: Growth. The U.S. currently generates upwards of five percent of its electricity from wind power, but wind has represented more than 30 percent of new capacity installed in the last five years, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
At that growth rate, in tandem with the fact that the price of turbines is dropping by as much as three percent annually, some analysts seeing wind capacity doubling by 2018.
But Serchuk says Vestas' opportunities first and foremost stem from a better product. "The opportunities are going to come from our ability to lower the cost of electricity generated by wind. That's on us and we feel pretty good about it."
Needs: "We need good people," says Serchuk. "It's as simple as that." While the company plans to bolster Colorado staffing by 800 employees in the latter half of the year, there's competition for talent, he adds, "so we've got to make our case."
Serchuk's pitch: "These are jobs with good benefits -- a comprehensive health package, a 401K with an employer match, and paid time off. It's an industry people can feel proud of and tell their kids about.”