Gamesa USA, the Spanish wind-turbine manufacturer the Rendell administration lured to Pennsylvania five years ago to help build an alternative-energy economic sector in the state, has been quietly moving its headquarters out of Philadelphia.
The decision to relocate executives to lower Bucks County, acknowledged by Gamesa representatives in an interview this week, is part of a mixed bag of news the company has for Pennsylvania as it adjusts to a brutal time in the wind industry.
That bag includes 141 layoffs at Gamesa's blade-manufacturing plant in Western Pennsylvania, effective Jan. 1. They will follow 184 layoffs early this year at Gamesa's factory in Fairless Hills.
Such dreary developments might seem counterintuitive given the unprecedented push at all levels of government for energy independence and alternative-energy projects. But none of that has been a match for the recession's impact.
"This year has not been a good year for wind-energy manufacturing or wind-farm development," said Gamesa spokesman Michael Peck. "With lending banks not lending and developers not getting their financing, a lot of orders that Gamesa has on the books haven't been funded."
Those economic hardships, however, are not the motivating factor behind Gamesa moving its executive offices from the top of 10 Penn Center at 18th and Market Streets, Peck said.
"What we're doing is putting a formal reality to what's been an informal reality," Peck said, noting that Gamesa executives have regularly spent time "where the action is" - the manufacturing plants in Lower Bucks and in Ebensburg, Cambria County.
The executive team will be officially based in Gamesa's Langhorne office, bringing up to 157 the number of employees working there. Most of them are in a variety of support functions - including finance, accounting, engineering, quality control, and human resources.
The headquarters move is essentially complete, Peck said, and is consistent with the company's policy of "putting support persons next to its manufacturing." The office is a 10-minute drive from the Fairless Hills factory.
Gamesa initially located its U.S. headquarters in Center City "because it seemed like a logical thing to do while we got our feet firmly established and understood the area," Peck said.
At 10 Penn Center, Gamesa holds a lease that expires in August 2018 on 35,247 square feet of space on the 26th and 27th floors, according to information on the Web site of CB Richard Ellis, a commercial real estate services firm handling the subleasing.
Though the Web site says all of the space is available for sublease, Peck said the company intends to keep its 45-employee development group at 10 Penn Center and might be adding some sales and service personnel there next year.
Peck said Gamesa's plans for early next year are to hire more than 30 people in this region for "high-quality technical and commercial positions." The plan is also for a workforce expansion of "a little bit less" than 30 at the Fairless plant, where about 300 employees produce giant hubs for wind turbines and 80-ton nacelles, compartments that hold the components used to generate power.
The 184 layoffs there in January were the result of Gamesa moving blade production to the Ebensburg plant, which, because of its larger size, could accommodate the latest generation of longer and lighter blades, which are 144 feet long and weigh nearly 6.5 tons.
Gamesa spent most of this year retooling Ebensburg for the new G-90 model, including adding a second production line. The plant is closed this month to finish that installation. Because of a "delay in realizing new orders," Peck said the plant would reopen Jan. 1 with just one production line. Of the plant's 280 employees, only 130 will be required for that restart, he said.
If and when the other 150 employees are put back to work will depend on a variety of things, including market recovery and more legislative efforts on the state and national levels to require the use of renewable energy and help businesses get into the industry's supply chain, Peck said.
In Harrisburg, George Cornelius, Pennsylvania's secretary of community and economic development, stoically digested Gamesa's latest layoff announcements this week.
"You've got a lot of forces lined up that make it difficult for the renewable-energy sector to grow," he said, citing the poor credit environment and the drop in cost for carbon-based energy.
"But all of that, I think, is temporary," Cornelius said. For Gamesa, "the best is yet to come."