Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Windspire Turbines From Manistee, and Why Manufacturing Matters

This video has been on my mind since I first saw it over a week ago now. The first two minutes features an explanation on stimulus grants, important in their own right, of course - but at 2:23 in the video, watch what happens when you get the governor going on the auto industry, loans from Washington, AIG, and the importance of manufacturing to the future of America...

Um, holy sh*t. Tell us how you really feel, governor. It's rare to see her go off like that, but truer words cannot be spoken at this point.

We need to manufacture stuff in this country. For all the reasons mentioned. Yes, we need to attract the "high education attainment" jobs that Michigan Prospect has shown to be gaining the most ground in the American economy, but we cannot totally give up manufacturing, not in this state, not in this country. Quite simply, we cannot trade one foreign energy dependence for another. Whether that is car batteries, or the means to produce the juice to heat and power our homes, and we won't even get into the weapons of defense, we must be able to make these things in America.

And why not in Michigan. We have the people, we have the know-how, we have the facilities. Which brings us to yesterday, and the grand opening of the Mas Tech/Mariah Power Windspire turbine factory in Manistee. I purposely waited to post on this to see how the traditional media would play it. TV from Traverse City did, as well as the Manistee newspaper, but all it got statewide was a small blip in the AP. Nothing from Detroit, nothing from GR, except a brief mention on one TV station. It's a shame. Mas Tech has shown us how this can be done - from retrofitting a former auto parts plant, to hiring former auto workers/machinists, to using 98% Michigan materials that can be recycled, to this very, very important fact - it is cost competitive with China. Sven Gustafson got the pertinent quote a few weeks ago:

Mariah signed a 5-year production contract with MasTech.

"Basically it guarantees them a profit and a few other unique things - but it's clearly a partnership, because if I'm not producing the lowest-cost wind turbine, I'm in trouble," said Mike Hess, Mariah Power's CEO.

"That means I now can be as cheap as they can make it in China. And that's a huge advantage for me, because I'm 98 percent made in the U.S.A., but I'm at the same cost as it is in China."

And there it is. We can compete with Chinese production, if you can refine the process to keep costs in line - and Mas Tech has on this item. Does that mean lower wages? Unfortunately yes - but they are living wages for the area; $20 hr. for skilled labor and no lower than $12 hr., and the company picks up 90% of health care.

The Windspire is a low-cost, revolutionary design that can provide 25% of a home's electrical power. 30 ft tall with a six foot concrete base, from what I understand it plugs right in to your existing power system. A woman in Bay City has a combo Windspire/solar array powering her home, and one story pointed out that the governor is going to get one installed at the Lansing residence. With a low cost of $6500 and the 30% federal credit, along with the energy savings they provide, these things will pay for themselves eventually.

Back to the main point - here is a product that is Michigan made with Michigan materials, and it's not likely to be outsourced because it is cost competitive. It will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels nationwide, help save the environment, all while employing Michigan workers... can we do the same with car batteries, solar film production, commercial size wind turbines, and all that goes into the manufacturing of these things?

Mas Tech has proven that we can, and that is what makes this one of the most important stories to hit this state in a long time. Watch the video from the Manistee grand opening here, and read the state release for more details on how this all came about. This is just the beginning, if we are smart enough to take advantage of the opportunity.

It's too bad the traditional media didn't make more of this story - it is the one we need to tell, over and over again.