UP FRONT: Energetic opportunities

Posted on Sep 2, 2014 :: Up Front
Sean P. Johnson
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer


The breeze of new opportunity is blowing across Northeast Wisconsin.

After a successful run with Wisconsin Wind Works, the supply chain effort organized to take advantage of rapid expansion in the wind energy industry, the New North is now looking to expand the brand – and the opportunities available to suppliers – by branching into other sectors of the energy industry.

Wisconsin Energy Works will soon be making its debut and will include manufacturers and suppliers to all segments of the energy industry, both renewables and traditional sources such as natural gas.

“When we organized Wisconsin Wind Works, we were chasing an opportunity, which was and is something we need to do,” says Jerry Murphy, executive director of New North. “That enterprise will still exist, but we now will be positioned to act on opportunities in other energy segments as well.”

Wisconsin Wind Works, www.wiwindworks.com, was organized in 2007 to take advantage of growing opportunities sparked by new renewable mandates imposed upon utilities as well as state and federal tax credits and incentives to construct new wind facilities.

From an initial seven members, the Wisconsin Wind Works supply chain directory peaked with nearly 300 members, and New North recently verified 191 active members. The effort highlighted the capabilities of firms both within and outside the wind industry to supply components, fabricate equipment or provide expertise.

It certainly made sense to start there.

Statistics maintained by the American Wind Energy Association show more than $1.3 billion invested in Wisconsin in 2013 to supply equipment to the wind energy sector. That is tied directly to more than 500 jobs, but does not reflect the jobs manufacturing the multiple pieces and components of the suppliers to those companies manufacturing the blades, turbines and towers.

As a whole, an average of $15 billion a year has been invested in wind energy the past five years, according to AWEA.

As successful as wind has been, recent market developments have shown that a broader focus could develop greater opportunities for those companies in the supply chain. New extraction technologies have led to a boom in natural gas production in the United States, while protracted debates over renewing incentives dramatically slowed the pace of new wind projects.

Recent developments in bio fuels and solar have resulted in new interest in those renewable technologies as well, says Ann Duginske, director of marketing and development for New North.

Some of the components manufactured for the wind industry could easily be transferred to other sectors. The ability of area manufacturers to design and fabricate new components for a wide variety of applications also make the move a logical next step, Duginske says.

“This is a chance for us to diversify across several markets and respond to changing conditions,” Duginske says. “We know that energy will always be an important industry for our companies.”

For example, while new wind projects went through a slowdown, the production of natural gas increased from about 18 billion cubic feet to more than 24 billion cubic feet and continues its uptick, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Knowing there are likely many companies already involved in various facets of the energy industry, the development of Wisconsin Energy Works will draw on the framework and lessons learned from Wind Works to raise awareness of the supply chain that already exists in the area. During the next year, New North will highlight and market those supply clusters, as well as build out a comprehensive directory similar to the one created for Wind Works.

Wisconsin Energy Works will serve as an umbrella for a variety of supply chains serving different segments of the energy industry. There is expected to be plenty of overlap.

The new branding will also change the marketing approach as the consortium expands its presence at events such as Power-Gen International, an industry conference attended by more than 20,000 industry professionals representing 98 countries.