EBENSBURG – A decade ago, wind energy was welcomed to the region as a means of cheap energy and good-paying jobs.
Former Gov. Ed Rendell became a fixture in Cambria County, bringing with him big checks for construction of the Gamesa USA blade plant in Cambria Township and development of turbine farms.
On Tuesday, Gamesa officials announced that the Spain-based company is eliminating the 62 jobs in the Cambria Township industrial park and shuttering the building.
“The decision is driven by a shift in our customer market from Pennsylvania and the Midwest to the Southwest, requiring us to alter our manufacturing, outsourcing and supply chain strategy to remain competitive,” spokesman Kurt Knaus said in an email to The Tribune-Democrat.
The announcement allows the company to give employees the 60-day notice as required by the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, Knaus said.
The official closing date will be March 31.
Gamesa is evaluating options for the facility, located in the park developed by the Cambria County Industrial Development Corp.
Linda Thomson, Johnstown Area Regional Industries president, said she and her staff are looking for a manufacturer to fill the massive building, constructed in 2005 at a cost of $25 million.
“Certainly we want to see the building used and employ folks in our area,” she said. “We’ll work directly with Gamesa.”
Gamesa’s closing came as no surprise to county officials who have watched the steady decline in employment at the plant.
At the 2006 grand opening, employment was at 205 with plans to add 30 more jobs.
“As we’ve seen over the past year and a half, they’ve been slowly cutting back with diminished federal funding,” said President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder.
“But I didn’t expect a full closure.”
Ken Mesko, executive director of the county industrial corporation, said he was anticipating the announcement.
“They have been downsizing over the past few years,” he said.
Along with the building, Gamesa owns nine lots in the industrial park for a total of 30 acres, Mesko said.
The federal tax credits that attracted Gamesa initially have been an issue, Thomson said.
“I think the overall lack of a long-term solution to the production tax credits … has made it very difficult for long-term planning and the industry is shifting a bit,” she said.
Along with notifying the employees, Knaus said formal notification has been given to the United Steelworkers union.
About a year ago, the local plant, which had manufactured the 150-foot-long blades, assumed the role of a repair facility, Knaus said.
It will remain open and fully staffed until the end of March to complete all the current work orders.
After the closure, repairs will be made in the field by Gamesa service personnel and in some cases suppliers located close to the affected wind farms, Knaus said.
Blades needed in the expanding Southwestern market will be manufactured by other suppliers, Knaus said.
No other Gamesa facilities in the United States will be impacted, he said.
Gamesa was lured to Cambria County in part because of the tax credits and millions of dollars in grants and loans offered by the state.
In 2012, 73 workers were laid off at the Ebensburg plant, then recalled to complete a 25-turbine order in February, it was reported last month in Philly.com.
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