CLINTON -- The leading wind turbine tower manufacturer in the U.S. plans to boost production at its Clinton plant and add up to 60 workers, hoping to capture more market share in the region's strong wind industry.
The expansion will boost production at Trinity Structural Towers by 15 to 20 percent, said Kerry Cole, president of Dallas-based Trinity, which also has plants in Iowa, Texas and Mexico. The Clinton plant ended 2010 with about 174 employees, but will add a third shift this year and hire more welders, painters and other staff.
"The Midwest is really still the best market for the wind industry in the U.S.," Cole said this week. "With all the facilities we have, the Midwest seems to be, through these economic times, holding up the best."
The expansion was a welcome surprise Thursday for officials in DeWitt County, where Trinity is one of the five largest employers and taxpayers, and manufacturing is the No. 2 sector. The county posted a jobless rate of 8.5 percent last month, down from a year ago but still about double pre-recession levels.
"That's great news for DeWitt County," said County Board Chairman Melonie Tilley when told of the expansion.
Parent company Trinity Industries bought Clinton's Thrall railcar manufacturing plant in 2001, only to close it a year later. In 2007, Trinity announced plans to spend millions to retool and reopen the plant and build turbine towers, taking in raw plate steel, cutting, blasting and painting it, and installing internal electrical components.
Today, Trinity's massive towers -- weighing more than 130 tons with base sections 15 feet in diameter -- are sold to turbine-makers like GE Energy, and delivered by road in three sections to wind farms within 600 miles of the plant. Those include Grand Ridge and Top Crop in LaSalle County, and Rail Splitter in Logan and Tazewell counties.
Cole said the decision to expand was made, in part, because the Clinton plant recently added a new customer, turbine-maker Gamesa, in addition to existing client GE. Trinity's current contracts have given it the confidence to add workers and cut back on excessive overtime costs it had recently racked up, he said.
"We didn't want to hire until we knew the market would sustain itself," Cole said.
The U.S. wind industry built 5,115 megawatts of wind power in 2010, half of 2009's pace, according to the American Wind Energy Association. But 2011 began with more than 5,600 megawatts under construction, including White Oak and Bright Stalk in McLean County, giving those in the supply chain optimism, said David Loomis, director of the Center for Renewable Energy at Illinois State University, Normal.
"It's not surprising to me that they're staffing up," he said of Trinity.
In contrast with Midwestern states, Texas, the U.S. leader in wind-energy production, has "tapped out" its current transmission lines, Cole said. The Midwest, he said, "is the hot spot right now."
Trinity is hosting a job fair Saturday, and Cole encouraged those without welding experience to apply and said pay is "very competitive." State records show in 2009 that most of Trinity's workers were hourly and averaged annual salaries of around $30,000. Other salaried employees averaged salaries closer to $50,000.
"If we have somebody who only knows what we taught them, we don't have to worry about people deviating from our procedures, because they only know what we taught them," Cole said.
What: Job fair for upcoming expansion at Trinity Structural Towers
Who: Open positions include welders, machine and crane operators, painters, blasters and supervisors. Trinity says it is willing to train new employees.
Where: Trinity Structural Towers, 10000 Tabor Road, Clinton
More info: www.trinitytowers.com
What: Fourth annual Siting, Zoning and Taxing of Wind Farms in Illinois conference
Who: Hosted by the Illinois Wind Working Group
When: Feb. 9
Where: Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Normal
Details: Speaker panels will discuss wind farm topics for audience of primarily county and zoning board members, government employees and developers
More info: www.renewableenergy.ilstu.edu, 309-438-7919