A strong Central Iowa employer will return to the state thanks, in part, to federal action taken by President Joe Biden.
TPI Composites, a company that manufactures blades for wind turbines, announced in early November it will restart operations at its manufacturing plant in Newton, a city 30 miles east of Des Moines. The company signed a 10-year lease extension with General Electric Renewable Energy to produce wind turbine blades.
Operations at the plant were suspended in late 2021, putting about 750 employees out of a job. At the time, TPI was Jasper County’s largest employer. TPI started operating in Newton in 2008 inside a former Maytag factory. This was two years after the washing-machine company left the city where it was founded in 1893.
Part of the reason for the suspension was uncertainty about when wind-related tax credits would go into effect. Some certainty returned when the Inflation Reduction Act was passed.
“This agreement is possible in part due to the support provided by the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 for critical American industries serving the domestic renewable energy sector,” said Bill Siwek, President and CEO of TPI in the press release announcing the decision. “We look forward to working with GE to take advantage of this opportunity to relaunch the Iowa facility and thank GE for their confidence in TPI’s team to implement this strategy.”
The Inflation Reduction Act, which is also meant to reduce the deficit and lower prescription drug prices, will invest in domestic renewable energy production with the focus of putting the United States on the leading edge of manufacturing the infrastructure for renewable energy such as wind and solar power. And Iowa has the chance to play a part.
According to Tanya Michener, the associate director of Newton Development Corporation, one of the most exciting things about the company returning is that TPI and any other renewable energy manufacturing, puts Newton on the map.
“Being a leader, producing something that’s a leader in the wind energy is a big deal because we also have ARCOSA,” Michener said.
ARCOSA Wind Towers Inc. also has a manufacturing facility in Newton. There, they build the towers for wind turbines. ARCOSA has also praised the Inflation Reduction Act, saying it will be significant for their business.
“We would consider that a big deal,” Michener continued. “And we’d like, with the green energy component, we also hope to attract other green energy companies who can maybe benefit from being close to a TPI or an ARCOSA.”
Though TPI is returning, the workforce won’t be back immediately, Michener said.
That’s partly because some details about the manufacturing, including the volume of blades, remain to be worked out. Nevertheless, Michener said it’s exciting to have the manufacturer return to Newton.
“They were an employer of choice when they left,” she said. “They had done a great job in the culture, creating community within their very diverse (workforce). They had 93 different countries represented out there, which is a huge undertaking anywhere, let alone a manufacturing facility.”
The workers were also highly sought after when TPI ended operations last year, and Michener said she couldn’t say how many people would return.
“The number of employers that would even just stand out there with signs to tell them (TPI employees) to come work for them was staggering,” she said. “So they were definitely hunted hard and wanted.”
Michener said Newton didn’t really lose population when TPI closed—only about a third of the employees were from Jasper County—but there were some other effects on local businesses such as convenience stores, gas stations, and hotels. Having the company in Newton also made the community better because it allowed people time off to volunteer in their communities.
Because of the need to ship blades, TPI had an impact on the railroad and likely will again.
“It kept us making sure that infrastructure was being maxed out and that we were growing it when we needed to,” Michener said. “I think that we’ve got future development coming out in those areas and they’ll all benefit from that infrastructure.”
So even if the workforce takes some time to rebuild, Michener said there are additional benefits to Newton now that TPI is returning. It ties the city’s name to renewable energy, which she hopes will also attract more people and businesses to Newton.
“We like the fact it puts Newton’s name out there and we just like the fact, right?” Michener said. “It’s just a very cool thing to be associated with. And to see it, like when they used to be transporting those blades down, it was very prideful, definitely, to know that that came from Newton.”
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