Conversation with Joe Brenner

Vice President of Production/Nordex USA


What led Nordex to build its new manufacturing facility in Arkansas?

There were quite a few factors to take into consideration, as you can imagine, with the most important one being proximity to regions where most of the wind activity is currently taking place in the United States. Here in Jonesboro we’re very near the Mississippi River for barging, there are two railways crossing Arkansas, and the highway system provides a major transportation network, so we can ship the 2.5MW “Gamma Generation” turbines we’re be building here anywhere in the country and make delivery in a matter of days. Beyond that, though, we found Jonesboro to be one of the most pro-business communities we’ve ever encountered. There is an existing industrial base, good schools, a strong work ethic, and overwhelming support in terms of wanting us to succeed. Even before the plant opened we developed a relationship with Arkansas State University, which implemented a workforce training program in “mechatronics,” teaching a combination of electrical and mechanical skill sets that are specific to manufacturing wind turbines.

We had an open house for the local community last fall, and so many people showed up to tour the facility — including Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe — that there wasn’t room for another car in the parking lot. The city even made improvements like widening intersections for trucks making deliveries, and they changed the name of the road leading to our plant to Nordex Drive. Their investment is already paying off, though, since one of our existing suppliers has just announced that they’re building a new plant nearby. I’ve been involved in manufacturing for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

I understand that Nordex designed this facility from the ground up for efficiency.

That’s right. The wind industry is growing in leaps and bounds, with new technologies being introduced every day, and we wanted to create a state of the art assembly process that was also flexible so that we could take advantage of these innovations. Our approach was to collaborate with Nordex wind experts in Germany, who were involved in updating their own production process. Together we developed an assembly line model, which keeps things constantly moving forward instead of being stalled in cells. This approach has allowed them to produce 15 turbines each week … a 50 percent increase, at least, from their previous maximum throughput. We sent our key managers, production engineers, and our materials management and supply chain staff to Rostock to work side by side with the experts for a couple of months, and then they came to Arkansas to assist with our startup, so there’s been a great deal of collaboration within the company. We all gained a lot by working together, and I think the effort has allowed us to leapfrog ahead of the competition. Nobody else is approaching this in the same way that we are.

Now that you’ve begun production, what does the future hold?

Right now we’re working with our existing supplier base to make sure the materials we need arrive on time and in an orderly fashion, but we’re identifying local suppliers as well. The goal is for our supply chain to be 80-percent domestic within the next year, which just makes sense from a production standpoint. And that’s another way we’re benefiting the local economy, in addition to the workforce we’re assembling. We foresee our presence in Jonesboro eventually resulting in about 700 jobs here in the community, as our suppliers gear up to handle the workload, and even though we’ve already invested some $42 million in this 150,000 square-foot facility, this is just the first phase. There are significant opportunities for growth in the coming years, which is exciting both for us as well as the surrounding community. We have all been infected by this incredibly positive atmosphere, and we’re using that energy as one of the building blocks for our success.

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