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Engaging Community Businesses to Bring Wind Projects to Life
A new Apex program offers local vendors an opportunity to capitalize on construction.
Local vendor representatives network and learn about wind farm construction in Morgan County, Illinois.
Today’s rural American communities are often searching for new economic development opportunities. One of the most exciting benefits that renewable energy facilities can bring comes in the form of jobs—scores of them created during construction, and new support for existing businesses boosted by project spending.
Because economic development is one of the most compelling wind project benefits, developers talk about it a lot. But most of the time, they talk like policymakers—citing statistics on the number of new jobs the project is expected to create or the millions of dollars of local spending the project is expected to bring.
The discussion doesn’t usually focus on the specific businesses in town that could see growth, or the types of local workers and laborers who have the most potential to be hired. This disconnect is felt most powerfully when the developer begins its efforts to seek local approval of the project.
That’s where Apex’s Local Vendor Program can make a meaningful difference.
Apex Senior Development Manager Mark Mauersberger (left) chats with a participant at the vendor fair in Jacksonville, Illinois, sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce.
When Increased Understanding Leads to Expanded Opportunity
Apex’s Local Vendor Program is designed to demystify the process of constructing a wind farm, starting by illuminating the types of required services that can be locally procured. For business owners, it’s often the first time they can envision playing a part in the process and enjoying the benefits of a project—long before a single turbine is ready to spin.
To be sure, wind farm construction is very specialized, with certain aspects performed by only a handful of companies across the country. But construction also requires many common products and services that can often be sourced locally.
Upgrading and building new stone roads, forming and pouring large concrete foundations, installing underground electrical systems, landscaping the operations and maintenance building, and completing mechanical and electrical connections are among the services that may be performed most cost-effectively by local subcontractors and suppliers.
In addition, businesses that provide lodging, meals, banking, groceries, and other living essentials are called upon during the roughly yearlong construction process to sustain the hundreds of workers who assemble the project.
To connect the dots, Apex is beginning to introduce local vendor directories in project communities.
For those vendors who sign up to be included in a local directory, the project’s development team commits to sharing their information with the lead construction firm that is ultimately hired to build the facility. Even if a balance of plant (BOP) contractor has not yet been selected, Apex knows that the large construction companies are generally interested in finding local suppliers and subcontractors to work with when they can.
By providing a directory of these types of businesses, Apex can actually help save the BOP contractor time and effort, while helping local businesses get exposure and a better shot at securing good work in their own community.
The Local Vendor Program helps small businesses understand what a renewable energy project has to offer them—and does so earlier in the process, when those companies have a chance to help make that project a reality.
Translating Economic Opportunity into Local (and Vocal) Support
Apex has successfully launched local vendor directories in project areas in Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, and Ohio. To date, only one of these projects has made it all the way to construction, but in that community, several local vendors have been selected from the directory. The Local Vendor Program has already resulted in real work for real businesses.
Best of all, the program has given Apex a powerful way to help more small businesses understand what a renewable energy project has to offer them—and do so earlier in the process, when those companies have a chance to help make that project a reality. When people realize that a project is offering their businesses direct benefits, more of them are willing to come out in public to show others that those benefits are more than just numbers in a news story.