James Viciana, chairman of the board of directors for Ventower Industries, holds up a symbolic pair of scissors after a ribbon cutting ceremony at the dedication of Ventower Industries, Michigan's largest wind power production plant. Behind Mr. Viciana are U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn), left, and Robert Clark, Mayor of Monroe, right.
MONROE — The $25 million Ventower Industries LLC factory here starts producing giant wind turbine towers Thursday, a watershed event for officials trying to rebuild the Great Lakes region’s distressed economy through green jobs, help America become a little more energy independent, and put land spoiled by past industrial practices back into use.
A dedication ceremony attended by 275 people Tuesday suggested this is not just another business opening.
Ventower, which is launching operations with a staff of 35 employees, has plans to expand it to 150 in the coming months, James Viciana, the company’s board director, said.
But there’s more to the story.
In environmental circles, turning a polluted site into a viable project — an effort commonly known as brownfield redevelopment — is seen as a 2-for-1. It corrects an environmental problem while fostering economic growth. The ancillary benefit often is keeping jobs and property tax revenue in cities while not ripping up as much of the countryside.
Rarely, though, do such projects go an extra step and result in the manufacture of products designed to reduce air pollution.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said Ventower is an example of how Americans “don’t have to choose between protecting our health and the environment and strengthening our economy.”
“The bottom line is we’re getting pollution out of these communities — and helping companies like Ventower put jobs back in,” she said.
A robotic welding machine is shown during a demonstration at the dedication of Ventower Industries Tuesday.
Ventower (www.ventower.com) will produce wind turbine towers for the biggest players in the wind industry, Mr. Viciana said, thoughadding he was not at liberty to discuss clients by name.
Wind is now America’s fastest-growing form of energy, although it still commands only a fraction of the market.
The towers will be about 300 feet tall and 14 to 16 feet in diameter, with sophisticated electronics inside.
Ventower expects to build 250 to 300 of them a year inside its 115,000-square-foot factory. The company hopes to nearly double the factory’s size to 220,000 square feet if sales become as brisk as anticipated.
Located off Borchert Park Drive at the Port of Monroe, Ventower is poised to ship the towers it builds by water, rail, or highway, Mr. Viciana said.
A little more than a year ago, the site was an eyesore: It was an industrial landfill that had been taken out of operation for years.
About $4.5 million was spent to address pollution there and cap the landfill, Mike Gifford, a U.S. EPA brownfield project manager and acting supervisor, said.
Ventower, buoyed by state and federal tax credits, put the project together fairly rapidly after it was announced in former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s 2009 State of the State address. The company received a $2.3 million grant and $1.2 million loan last year from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and also received a $16.5 million incentive package that included loans from the EPA and the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Known as Great Lakes Towers LLC when it was founded in 2008, Ventower built its factory on 38 acres of the port authority’s former 400-acre landfill. The company said it has another 48 acres for staging and storing towers.
Ventower Industries is Michigan's largest wind power production plant.
Many people don’t realize the Great Lakes region has more brownfield sites in need of redevelopment than any other part of the country, according to Susan Hedman, the federal EPA’s regional director.
She attributed that to the region’s industrial legacy.
“It gives us an opportunity to do more,” Ms. Hedman said.
Since the federal government began focusing on the redevelopment of brownfield sites nine years ago, some $88 million in grants have leveraged almost a billion dollars in private sector investments and created about 70,000 new jobs nationally, including 8,700 new jobs in Michigan, according to Ms. Jackson.
“We are proud Ventower is providing clean energy jobs for the future and is doing it right here in southeast Michigan,” U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D., Dearborn) said. “We are not done here in Monroe.”
Ventower also has announced plans to build a facility on the East Coast, according to the company’s Web site.
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