Thirteen months ago, the state government and a Colorado energy company promised Kansas and the people of Newton a lot.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and executives of the New Millennium Wind Energy Co., LLP of Avon, Colo., announced big plans to open a new $30 million manufacturing plant to make high-tech wind energy generators in an energy-themed industrial park on the southeast edge of Newton.
It was a big deal for the south-central Kansas community of 19,000 just north of Wichita. There was the cachet of potential high-tech renewable energy riches, and the more immediate attraction of jobs – good ones, paying $40,000 or more a year.
Seventy of these jobs would be created by this July, and more than 350 would be there within five years, the boosters said.
“What a great day for Newton and for Kansas,” Brownback proclaimed at an announcement ceremony in Newton when the plans were disclosed.
Ground for the new factory is not broken, and no one has been hired for any high-tech manufacturing job. Newton officials don’t even know for sure when they might be able to sell $10 million in city and Harvey County backed industrial revenue bonds, which they need to get shovels turning.
“We’re learning that startup companies (of which three-year-old New Millennium is one) always have very ambitious schedules,” said Bob Myers, Newton’s city attorney.
In this case, three things appear to be slowing New Millennium’s path, Myers said.
First, the high-tech blades for the one-of-a-kind generators – which look like old-fashioned reel lawnmower blades set on end – needed some scientific tweaking. That’s being done by Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research, as part of the incentives Kansas offered New Millennium.
“But it appears to be taking longer than expected,” Myers said.
John Tomblin, institute executive director, said institute scientists are working with the company to improve the generator blades, but that non-disclosure agreements with New Millennium prohibited him from providing more detail.
New Millennium executives also offered little in the way of enlightenment. Executive vice president Bruce Russell, the company’s contact for the Kansas project, failed to return a series of phone calls. Founder and president Drew Thacker, who sang the plan’s praises at last year’s announcement ceremonies, could not be reached at any of four now-disconnected phone numbers in Colorado, Texas, Illinois and California. The company’s website says it is under construction and contains no newer posting than 2010.