Spotlight: Breathing Life into Maine’s Manufacturing Industry

A wave of ingenuity is transforming the way traditional manufacturing companies do business. Throughout the country, enterprises are taking advantage of a wind industry that installed a record-breaking 10,000 MW of clean, renewable power in 2009. (2009 AWEA Report) Various industry sectors are experiencing growing demand for turbine parts—from the iron foundries where the steel turbine castings are forged to the electronic firms where complex wind measuring instruments are crafted.

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Construction of AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center's Expansion is underway.
Photo credit: AEWC

This kind of transformation is not unprecedented. Consider what happened in Detroit after World War II. As the auto industry took hold and expanded, so did the industries in the supply chain throughout the region. Opportunity breeds investment. The same transformation is already happening for the wind industry with one major advantage: the infrastructure is already in place. Many of those same industries that fed the supply chain for automobiles are now adjusting operations to make wind turbine components. Michigan and Ohio, two of the hardest-hit states by the financial recession, are retooling their manufacturing facilities to accommodate wind turbine components. States are eyeing the potential economic benefits of the wind industry and adjusting tax policies to lure in the supply chain with generous incentives.

So what does this mean for Maine? There is an entirely unique set of circumstances that make Maine ideal for deepwater offshore wind industry development:

First, Maine has the technical expertise. The “Maine Brand,” established through a combination of gritty can-do attitude and manufacturing prowess, is known and respected worldwide. Maine’s economy traditionally has been dependent on manufacturing jobs that pay a third higher than the state average (Charting Maine’s Future—Brookings analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages data). However, Maine has shed 35,000 of these jobs between 1990 and 2006 (Charting Maine’s Future), a 33% decrease. A commitment to the development of deepwater offshore wind would lure the firms with these high-quality manufacturing jobs in steel, boat building, power plant operations, and more back home to Maine.

Second, Maine has a very favorable political climate for renewable energy development. Maine has the most ambitious renewable portfolio standard in the country—40% of the state’s energy needs must be met by renewables by 2017 (Environmental Protection Agency data). Clearly, policymakers on the state and federal level are committed to fostering wind energy opportunities.

Third, Maine is situated perfectly for wind development. With some of the best wind resources in the country located in the Gulf of Maine and close proximity to the energy-hungry New York/Boston metropolitan areas, Maine is in an ideal location to link the two into a profitable opportunity.

Maine is at a crossroads with a struggling economy, fleeing jobs, and yet an incredible source of clean, renewable electronics blowing abundantly across the Gulf of Maine. Our state is starving for a revival of its proud industrial economy. It is time to breathe new life into the manufacturing sector, and bring the "Maine Brand" back to prominence.