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Wind turbines generate Michigan job hopes

Wind turbines generate Michigan job hopes(By Christina Rogers via The Detroit News)Not long ago, MasTech Manufacturing's future looked bleak.The latest auto industry downturn had nearly halted production on the

factory floor. The plant, which made high-tech machinery for car and truck

plants, was limping by with only five workers. And parts orders were drying

up.But today, the cavernous, two-story factory is ramping up production of

another sort, churning out wind turbines to meet a fast-growing demand for

this renewable power source. MasTech has restored its workforce to more

than 40 employees -- hiring many former auto workers -- with plans to grow

as the firm seeks to meet a 2,500-unit back order."If we didn't have these wind turbines," said John Holcomb, the plant's

manager, "we wouldn't be here talking today. The doors would be closed."The small factory in Manistee, a former industrial stronghold on the shores

of Lake Michigan that once served as a hub for salt mining and lumber

mills, is helping usher in a new, greener era for Michigan manufacturing,

one state officials hope will transform the Great Lakes State into a hub

for milling parts for the nation's growing number of wind farms.Manistee, too, is pinning its hopes on this new manufacturing to boost the

fortunes of this 6,500-resident city, where signs of the recession are

visible in the vacant storefronts on its main street. Many small auto parts

suppliers in the area have shed workers, causing the job loss to trickle to

other industries."Around here, it's survival mode," said Chris Dittmer, 25, an intern at

MasTech who grew up in nearby Ludington.About 1 percent of the nation's energy is generated from wind power, but

federal officials are pushing to make it a larger part of the U.S.

electricity grid, with one report targeting 20 percent wind power by 2030.Michigan utilities also are turning up the juice on wind power to comply

with new state renewable energy requirements and spending big on wind

turbines and farms.But the state's efforts to diversify the wind market are tinged with

challenges. Michigan has a well-established industrial base, but it's far

from a leader in turbine manufacturing and faces stiff competition from

other states.While turbine-part manufacturing will generate badly-needed jobs-- one

federal report identifies Michigan as one of four states that could create

up to 30,000 new jobs by 2030 -- it will barely dent the void left by the

state's contracting auto industry, which has scrubbed about 500,000 jobs

since 2000.And some analysts say the government's jobcreation estimates are

optimistic, at best.Michigan lags other statesIn the last three years, more than 35 firms in Michigan have sprung up or

retooled their factories to supply parts to the commercial wind industry.Some 400 other Michigan manufacturers have the capability to craft gear

boxes, brakes, generators and other parts for utility-size wind turbines --

colossal 400-foot structures with blades larger than a jumbo jet's wingspan

and selling for $2 million a piece, says NextEnergy, a renewable energy

development group in Detroit.Those figures don't include smaller manufacturers, like MasTech, that makes

components for lower-watt turbines for homes and small businesses."We've just scratched the surface," said Dan Radomski, vice president of

industry services for NextEnergy, which is working to link Michigan auto

suppliers with wind turbine original equipment manufacturers or OEMs.Still, Michigan lags other states in landing key assembly contracts to

build tower and blade plants, analysts say.Much of that business has already gone to states like Colorado and Iowa

that saw the opportunities in wind energy early on and were aggressive

about courting global wind manufacturers when they were looking to ratchet

up production in the U.S."That doesn't mean (Michigan) is completely out of the game, but it's

playing a bit of catch up with other states,"