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German visit could bring wind-power jobs to state

German visit could bring wind-power jobs to state

BY BILL WILSON The Wichita Eagle

The leader of a German wind power trade association visited the Wichita area this month, the latest step as local officials continue their recruitment of renewable energy businesses to the region.

Jens Eckhoff, chief executive of the German Offshore Wind Energy Foundation, spent Sept. 12 and 13 in Kansas, meeting with Wichita and Newton officials, along with Gov. Sam Brownback.

One of the Wichita developers who organized the visit, NAI John T. Arnold Associates president Marlin Penner, said the visit targeted relationships that could lead German wind power firms to locate in the area.

“Our objectives are to build relationships that produce new jobs in the state of Kansas and profits to German partners,” Penner said.

“That can be done in a couple of ways, developing strategies to produce alliances with German companies to produce goods and services to the U.S. market, or actually locating their companies here.”

Penner said possible German business targets include wind energy firms, their subcontractors and other service providers.

Wind tower maintenance is another target, Penner said: As warranties expire on the towers, owners will need trained maintenance technicians.

So discussions have begun, Penner said, with Wichita Area Technical College and Wichita State University about technician training.

The group met with Wichita officials Sept. 12, then toured Newton’s Kansas Logistics Park, which has landed commitments from two wind power manufacturers, a day later.

Suzie Ahlstrand, interim director of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, said teaming with the Germans on wind power manufacturing “is something to look for as we plan for the future.”

“Do we have to wait for a crisis to happen to look at alternative forms of energy?” she asked. “What we can learn from the Germans as the conversations move forward is their best practices and how they’ve developed wind power.”

Newton City Manager Randy Riggs said his city remains interested in alternative energy tenants for the logistics park.

“The fact they are in similar businesses is always, from my perspective, you never know what kind of great possibilities are around the corner,” Riggs said.

“When I heard about the long effort that their governmental entities put into logistics parks, it was really kind of reassuring that this is something that proactive, positive governments have been doing around the world.”

Eckhoff’s visit comes a year after a local delegation led by Penner and Stan Brodhagen, a commercial broker from Newton, attended the Husum WindEnergy 2010 trade show in Germany last September.

That delegation included Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Skelton and David Bossemeyer and Debra Teufel, representing the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition.

Penner said he and Brodhagen want to lead another local delegation to Germany next year for further talks with business and political leaders.

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