A Japanese company that developed an innovative vertical-axis wind turbine at City College at Montana State University Billings is moving forward with plans to bring manufacturing jobs to Billings.
Taisei Techno, a 50-year-old company that’s working to expand its wind power division in the United States, selected Billings as the site to test its 42-foot, 10-kilowatt turbine more than three years ago. The company recently leased space in Billings and plans to assemble small components that will be used in passenger trains built for the U.S. market.
Rhyno Stinchfield, chief executive of GreenWorld Partners, a Billings wind energy and consulting business, said Taisei’s Billings operation is tied to increased investment into passenger rail transportation.
Taisei makes several components for passenger trains used in Asia, and the company is looking to expand into the American market.
“The first order they’re looking at is for 300 light-rail cars on order for Los Angeles,” said Stinchfield, who is Taisei’s agent in the United States. A multibillion-dollar high-speed passenger railroad connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco is another potential destination for Taisei’s components. But Taisei also hopes to provide components for rail cars to be used in Chicago, Florida and possibly the Northeast, Stinchfield said.
Initially, Taisei’s Billings operation might have around a dozen or so workers, but there’s potential for expansion, Stinchfield said during a tour of the site at 2625 Overland Ave.
Taisei’s move into Billings coincides with a recent upswing in manufacturing jobs in the Billings area. Many of the new jobs are energy-related.
TrueNorth Steel recently completed the steel beams that went into the giant new Scheels store in Billings, and it has been manufacturing large tanks used in the oil industry. TrueNorth Steel’s parent company, Romensmo Cos., purchased Roscoe Steel Co. in 2011.
Bay Ltd. recently announced plans to hire 300 to 400 workers to build components to be used in the Canadian oil sands.
For the past two years, Highland Projects, a Canadian company, has been manufacturing steel tanks at the former Anderson Steel Co. plant on Orchard Lane.
David Goodridge, Highland’s general manager in Billings, said most of the company’s products have gone to Canada, Texas and Wyoming. But he expects orders from the booming Bakken oil play to pick up because Highland recently hired a salesman to cover that area.
Taisei’s interest in Billings dates back to 2009 when Stinchfield met Masahir Sano, a technology consultant for Taisei, during a renewable energy conference.
“We kept each other’s business cards, and somewhere down the road they became interested in looking to launch products in the United States,” Stinchfield said.
After Stinchfield was hired, he helped Taisei develop a list of criteria for where to locate one of its prototype wind turbines. Taisei preferred working within a university setting and wanted to locate in the western part of the country.
Stinchfield put the company in touch with former MSU Billings Chancellor Ron Sexton. City College, previously known as the College of Technology, met the company’s requirements in part because it had a program that focuses on sustainable energy, Stinchfield said.
Muneyoshi Shibagaki, chief executive of Taisei Techno, was sold on Billings in part because he was impressed with the community’s friendly nature.
“He had been staying at the Crowne Plaza, and he said he was impressed how everybody was saying hello to him” during his morning walks, Stinchfield said. “He said that never happens in Tokyo, New York or Hong Kong, so he decided they were going to put a North American base here.”
A camera and computer hookup allows Taisei to keep a close watch on the wind turbine at City College.
Stinchfield remains in regular contact with company officials as Taisei focuses on developing markets in the United States.
“Sano comes here every eight weeks. He has made well over 100 trips to the U.S., and we communicate every day by email,” Stinchfield said.
Taisei has been involved in efforts to help Japan recover from the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck two years ago.
Japan is investing more money into renewable energy after the earthquake and tidal wave damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Stinchfield said.
Tall steel platforms that provide protection from tsunamis are being built in coastal cities. When a tsunami warning is sounded, people grab their belongings, climb the stairs and take refuge from the giant waves.
Taisei has developed wind- and solar-powered charging stations that will be installed on the platforms so that people seeking refuge can charge cellphones and remain in contact with the outside world.
“They can wait a day or two until the waves subside if they have to,” Stinchfield said.
Taisei also hopes to adapt the technology to American markets, using solar and wind power to charge crossing lights. Stinchfield said the company has approached the city about installing its solar-powered crossing signals as West End development continues.