UPDATED: 2 Wind Industry Firms Bound for Little Rock to Employ 830

Polymarin Composites, an international company that makes rotor blades for the wind industry and a wholly owned subsidiary of Emergya Wind Technologies, on Wednesday announced it will put a new manufacturing facility in Little Rock to initially employ 630 people.

The company will move into the former Levi Building on I-530, a decision lauded by Little Rock Vice Mayor Stacy Hurst.

"It is even more beneficial because these projects will go into an existing facility that has been sitting empty and unused," she said.

Officials from Polymarin, founded in the Netherlands more than 20 years ago, said the company will invest $16 million in the facility. The company aims to employ 630 people at an average wage of $15 an hour within four years.

Also, Wind Water Technology, a supplier to Emergya, said it will put an operation in the same facility and employ 200 people, also making about $15 an hour.

Emergya Wind Technologies is the parent company of Polymarin and specializes in making of direct drive, or gearless, wind turbines. EWT, founded in the Netherlands in 2004, delivers wind farms on a turn-key basis around the world.

"EWT, WWT and Polymarin have selected Arkansas and Little Rock as our bases for production," EWT CEO Gerry van der Sluijs told a crowd of government and business leaders gathered at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. "You were the best that we could find in the whole of the U.S. ... We are very much impressed by what we have seen so far."

Van der Sluijs said the company will continue to work with local and state agencies to find qualified employees to fill the job. A company spokesperson confirmed that EWT has already begun hiring and expects to begin operations in early 2009.

EWT oversees activities in more than 20 countries. Van der Sluijs said the company is also establishing a plant in China through a joint venture.

"Today [EWT] has an order pipeline representing more than 2,000 megawatts that will be delivered worldwide," he said. "We have budgeted a substantial amount of money that we will invest here to supply the U.S. market."

Van der Sluijs said he is hopeful that the Little Rock plant will expand as demand increases.

"Our plans are ambitious but realistic at the same time," he said.

'Major Player' in Wind Energy

"Polymarin researched many locations and found Little Rock to be the ideal place for their first North American manufacturing facility," said Elizabeth Small, who chairs the chamber board.

Small said that Wednesday's announcement, combined with last year's from LM Glasfiber, position Little Rock and the region as a "major player" in advanced manufacturing for the wind energy industry.

The companies' combined $20 million capital investment puts the region over $1 billion in new capital investment since February of 2005, she said.

Gen. Wesley Clark, an Arkansas native who is on EWT's board, attended Wednesday's announcement and was credited for his influence on the company's decision to come to Little Rock.

Gov. Mike Beebe quipped that Clark did everything "totally above board" to "urge, cajole, plead, beg and threaten" the company to come to Arkansas.

"We're in a competitive economic situation," Clark said, adding that he did "everything I could" to bring the EWT to the state.

Reducing Foreign Dependence

Clark emphasized the importance of renewable energy as it relates to the country's dependence on foreign energy supplies. He said the country's energy independence is a matter of "national security."

"We're in a very important sector of the economy," Clark said. "We are the most rapidly expanding wind energy market in the world. This is important not just for jobs and economic development. ... We can change the shape of America."

Clark said a component of the financial markets bailout bill Congress passed last week included tax credits for renewable energy companies.

"That's the kind of help we need," he said.

U.S. Congressman Vic Snyder, D-Ark., said lawmakers have identified energy as a top priority.

"The No. 1 national security issue facing this country is energy," Snyder said.

Beebe agreed.

"What we are trying to do in Arkansas is to carve out a niche ... in sustainable and renewable energy," Beebe said. "If we remedy our dependence on foreign sources of energy, our security is heightened by untold degrees."

In March, Arkansas Business reported that an entity called Safe Harbor-Arkansas LLC of Dallas bought the Levi Building, formerly a distribution center for the jeans-maker, from Levi Strauss & Co. of San Francisco in a $2.85 million deal.

The deal was financed with a $2.28 million loan from Regions Bank of Birmingham, Ala.

Levi Strauss acquired the 80-acre location at 15000 Panatela Parkway for $210,000 in January 1972 from the Industrial Development Co. of Little Rock.