Wind Industry Fuels Manufacturing in North Carolina

April 19, 2010

Despite 10,000 MW of wind installation that happened in the United States last year, the economic downturn decreased demand for the fiberglass used in the manufacturing of wind turbine blades, resulting in the furnace closure at PPG. But by January this year, seasoned workers and industry newcomers showed up at the facility because the furnace was on again, and the demand for materials rose.

PPG employs about 700 workers in Lexington, where the talent base for manufacturing jobs is rich as a result of the textile and electronics industries that once called the city home before relocating overseas. The glass plant, however, is still in town creating jobs.

“We’ve continued to focus on wind energy because it has been an enabling market that has helped us keep jobs here,” Cheryl Richards, the global market development manager for PPG’s wind energy efforts, says. “If we’re going to produce glass, we need a big market like wind to sell into, and that’s what creates jobs — we had to look strategically at what products we can produce to keep people working in North Carolina and to keep our furnaces lit.”

The company expects to continue to increase production of materials for the wind industry, which is one of PPG’s many business interests. Cheryl says energy policy and soaring fossil fuel prices are contributing factors behind the recent increase in demand and that more clean energy policies — such as a national renewable energy standard — in the future should continue to drive the market.

“We sell into a number of industries in which we focus, but why do we like renewables? It has a high growth rate that you don’t see in many markets,” she says. “But is also requires technology, and there’s a hunger and a thirst for innovation, so we can bring new features to our products, which is great for a manufacturing company. Renewable energy is capturing the interest of our employees now, and we’ll continue to look for what’s next.”