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Need to reinvent? Build wind turbines

crane construction.jpg
via Flickr
A Syracuse-based crane company changed its business model when building construction took a downturn. The new focus became erecting wind turbines.

Politicians often cite cranes, rising above a skyline, as a sign of a city's economic health - the more the better. But when the economy falters, or a city's fortunes fade, so does the demand for cranes.

So one crane company has reinvented itself to adapt to changing times. Syracuse-based JPW Riggers saw wind turbines sprouting up on hillsides in the '90s, and with them, potential.  It redirected its focus, and now it's success makes it the subject of a profile by Mike Meyers in the latest CNY Business Exchange (paywall).

JPW Riggers has been in the crane business since the late '70s. It prospered as the Central New York region prospered. Then manufacturing took a downturn, and the firm needed to look at other possibilities.

John Wozniczka Jr., son of the company’s founder, began to see potential in a market in its infant stage: wind turbines. According to the article:

“Chasing that business would be a gamble. JPW Riggers had plenty of cranes for relatively small jobs. But giant towers demanded gargantuan cranes.”

To make the transition, the company sold off old equipment they’d used in the past, and financed new gear. The risk paid off, and JPW Riggers has now done wind power construction in 25 states. But the company’s new venture wasn’t recession proof. Again, according to Meyers' piece:

“For JPW, which employed 100 crane operators in its peak years, the payroll fell to 50 [operators] recently.”

Owners say they’re cautiously optimistic that the tough period is over though, and that they’ve begun to hire back laid-off workers.

This story reminds us of another one that the Innovation Trail's Daniel Robison reported back in August, about "Steel Winds." That project uses brownfield land - polluted by industrial steel production - as the site of a wind farm. Turns out there are second acts in American lives - as long as it's powered by wind.

Innovation Trail alumnus Ryan Morden is originally from Seattle. He graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor's in journalism, minoring in political science and Scandinavian studies. Morden was Morning Edition producer and reporter at WRVO before moving over to the Innovation Trail project. Before landing at WRVO, Morden covered the Washington State legislature as a correspondent for Northwest News Network (N3), a group of nine NPR affiliates in the northwest.
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