Wind energy could mean windfall for Kansas companies

It's not often a city gets a chance to land a whole new industrial cluster.

It's that possibility that produced grins and laughter among those who had returned from the largest wind energy show in the world in Germany last week.

That group included Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, and representatives from the state, Wichita State University, the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition and private industry.

Their biggest coup: a European wind energy trade group said it is interested in bringing a large delegation to Kansas next year.

The visit would entail setting aside hundreds of hotel rooms and producing a virtual tour of Kansas using high-tech maps showing wind speeds, high-voltage lines, highways, railroad tracks and population centers.

"So they can see where they can fit into the picture and where they would like to be," Brewer said.

These companies are Europe's major turbine makers and their suppliers. As the number of wind farms in the U.S. develops, the much-larger European wind energy industry is slowly expanding into the U.S. They are searching for sites to build and suppliers to manufacture.

That would be very good news for Wichita.

"It's pretty exciting," said Patty Koehler," president of J.R. Custom Metal Products, who traveled to Germany and who already supplies the industry.

Marlin Penner of real estate firm John T. Arnold Associates, who also went, said the trip might encourage a few suppliers of Siemens to move to the area.

Or, he said, it might mean a major new manufacturing cluster of the subcontractors for Siemens and the other turbine makers who have recently built in nearby states.

"We think we've got a shot at that," Penner said.

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