JEFFERSON CITY — More than 600 ABB employees welcomed Vice President Joe Biden to their manufacturing facility in Jefferson City on Thursday, when he came to show the Obama administration's support for job creation, economic investment and energy independence.
Biden thanked the workers for their contributions to develop a wind farm near Maryville.
"Our main market is commercial housing, and that market has gone down the tubes," said Jerome Wulf, a repair welder for ABB.
Wulf said the factory has laid off employees three times in the past year, most recently in February. With each layoff, 80 to 90 factory workers have lost their jobs. In the mid-1980s, Wulf was one of the employees the factory let go.
"I started working here again less than a year later,” Wulf said. “You have recall rights for one year.”
Currently, the plant employs about 650 people. Now that Wulf has worked for ABB for 32 years, his seniority has protected him during lay-off periods. For the past three months, he said, business has been looking up.
Bob Fesmire, ABB media relations manager, said that wind farms are a "growing business" for the company.
"The more we can do with renewable energy, the less we have to rely on the housing industry," Fesmire said.
ABB has been working with Wind Capital Group, a Midwest-based company, in developing plans to build Lost Creek Wind Farm, which is planned as the largest wind farm in Missouri. A contractor for the company submitted the purchase order for the transformers that ABB will begin producing in the next several months.
When completed, Lost Creek will provide 150 megawatts of wind generation capacity, which is enough to heat more than 50,000 homes. Fesmire said the wind farm will require one transformer for each of its 100 turbines.
"When the power comes out of the wind turbine, it's at a low voltage," he said. "The voltage needs to be stepped up so it can merge onto the grid.”
Capital Group decided to move forward with plans for Lost Creek this spring, after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided incentives to construct wind energy projects in 2009 and 2010. Groundbreaking for the wind farm will take place in August, with project completion and power flow estimated around July 2010.