Since this spring the Hinesburg company that makes wind power measurement devices, was forced to layoff more than 30 workers -- almost a third of its workforce. For CEO Jan Blittersdorf, who's been with the company in one form or another since its inception 30 years ago, its been a trying time. "We've had a pretty good 30 year run of steady growth, steady employment growth and it was just heart breaking, frankly, to have to change course and lay people off," she said.
When the great recession hit in 2008, sales plummeted. Since then the company has fought back, refining its wind measurement devices, and last year introducing a new line of solar measurement tools. But the potential expiration of the Production Tax Credit remains a major hurdle. The federal incentive set to expire at the end of this year has played a pivotal role in the development of wind farms in Vermont and around the country. But with its renewal stalled in Congress, it has left wind manufacturers guessing.
"If you're a developer, and again we serve developers, your not going to start a project if you have no idea what going to happen down the pike," Blittersdorf said.
Despite the challenges, Blittersdorf has taken a two tier approach to stay competitive--diversifying the product line to sensors that monitor turbine health. "Our system not only tells you how its operating today, it also helps you predict the maintenance that you might need going forward," she said.
The company is even branching out to solar power assessment devices that measure if a site is suitable for a solar farm.
Unlike other domestic wind power companies that are hobbled by shipping large parts like turbines and blades, Blittersdorf said, NRG's product line is nimble enough to reach an emerging international market -- places like Africa and South America. "The hope for us is in a couple of things -- we're an exporter. We export to over 150 countries and we have been exporting since the 1980s, so we know how to do it," Blittersdorf said.
Experts say in the long run, NRG and others in the industry should be able to weather the current downturn no matter what happens in Washington. "These tax credits come and go all the time," said Gary Flomenhoft, a Fellow at The University of Vermont's Gund Institute. "It's a global industry and companies that are international, only a small part of their business is in the United States, so they can ride out their ups and downs I think -- some companies better than others."
"The way I look at it now, for a period of time, until this uncertainty passes, we're going to be smaller and stronger -- and we've done the work we needed to do as hard as it was, as heartbreaking as it was -- to get there and we're definitely at a more stable place," Blittersdorf said.
Despite uncertain economic times in the industry, NRG has its finger to the wind.
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