Green industry taking root at Michoud

Just as the vital aerospace industry is winding down at the sprawling Michoud Assembly Facility in eastern New Orleans, a promising new industry is winding up for business there.

Blade Dynamics Ltd., a British company that builds huge blades for turbines that harness renewable wind energy, plans to open a manufacturing operation at Michoud.

“We see tremendous potential for our technology,” says Blade Dynamics co-founder Theo Botha.

He says his company was attracted to Michoud by the “willing, dedicated and skilled workforce” and says the facility will soon begin making “the world’s most advanced wind turbine blades.”

Through an incentive deal with the state, Blade Dynamics will create 600 new jobs in New Orleans at an average annual salary of $48,000 and the company will make some $13 million in capital investments here. Meanwhile, the state is providing $5.4 million in performance-based financial assistance and $6 million towards equipment purchases. The state will also help cover relocation costs and provide employee recruitment and training services.

The news comes at an important time for New Orleans, where the local economy is bracing for some severe job cuts. At Michoud itself, aerospace contractor Lockheed Martin is ending the production of space shuttle fuel tanks as NASA retires the shuttle fleet, and employment at Michoud has fallen from 2,600 people in 2009 to approximately 1,000 people today. More recently, defense contractor Northrop Grumman announced it would close its Avondale shipyard on the West Bank by 2013, putting 5,000 jobs there in jeopardy.

In addition to creating direct jobs, the Blade Dynamics deal also signals a success for local economic development goals of diversifying the employment base, especially in renewable energy and other modern, environmentally-friendly industries.

“This is an exciting win for Louisiana not only because of the new, high-paying jobs it will bring, but also because Blade Dynamics is in one of our top new target growth industries for Louisiana, (which is) green manufacturing,” says Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret.

Michoud is considered one of the most important manufacturing facilities for the region. The 832-acre facility includes approximately one million square feet of industrial space under one roof. Originally developed as an aircraft plant during World War II, Michoud was the site where sections of NASA’s Saturn V rockets were built. By 1973 it was dedicated primarily to building the space shuttle’s external tanks.

 

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