September 18, 2014

Oklahoma tribe developing solar panel business

ANADARKO, Okla. (AP) – A dozen years after carpeting manufacturer Hollytex closed its former warehouse the facility has never looked so massive.

Maybe it is because new owner, the Delaware Tribe, spent $1 million last year upgrading and expanding it, or maybe it just appears that way now because it’s empty. But a walk through its corridor with Jerry Kennedy, executive director of the tribe’s economic development group, shows the warehouse is swollen with potential.

“We’re trying to make it where it’s kind of an incubator center for start-up businesses that are hopefully focused on green technology or at least a business that can’t destroy the planet and can employ people,” Kennedy said. “It’s kind of the heritage with Mother Earth and all that kind of stuff – to help with the planet as well as to help here with employment in Anadarko.”

The tribe shelled out $3 million for the new Green Tech facility in 2009. It’s 250,000 square feet of covered concrete floor, and Kennedy envisions it will soon be bustling with activity from several manufacturing and assembling companies that will be producing products to be distributed nationwide.

Last year, with a $250,000 federal grant matched by the tribe, a solar array was installed on top of the Delaware tribal complex in Anadarko. The solar panels knocked off about a third of the complex’s daily energy use, but its impact was more demonstrative than anything.

The goal, Kennedy said, is to start assembling these same panels from within the confines of the Green Tech warehouse.

Already the tribe owns a solar power developer in New Jersey, Unami Solar, he said, and a feasibility study is planned for this summer that will bring several coastal solar panel manufacturers to the Anadarko facility with the hopes that one of them will be sold on the idea of assembling them here. In Oklahoma, Kennedy said, these corporate executives will find a progressive business climate with a solid transportation infrastructure and free trade incentives – not to mention a facility in the middle of the country.

“Oklahoma is one of the states that is really providing manufacturing jobs,” Kennedy said. “There are all kinds of different agencies a business can use through the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance to get tax benefits and employee benefits.”

Other prospective clients include a Utah company the tribe recently bought out which manufactures LED, or light-emitting diode, lighting and a group that markets urinal cakes for waterless urinals.

Kennedy said the Delaware Nation Economic Development Authority is projecting 150 employees at the Anadarko complex within three to five years and another 300-500 in a decade.

The tribe adopted renewable energy as its platform for economic development in 2008, two years after Kerry Holton became its president. Holton’s goal was to diversify and get away from being grant- or casino-dependent, Kennedy said. By bringing these new technologies to Anadarko the tribe would also be providing career opportunities for its younger generation.

“There aren’t a lot of opportunities here in Oklahoma, so they move off to other states where there’s a little more opportunity,” he said. “We’re wanting to create opportunity here, so they won’t move off and so some of these people can come back home and have a job or career they’re proud of.”

In addition to the GreenTech project, the tribe is also working with the City of Anadarko and several local schools and agencies to develop an energy conservation and recycling program.

Kylah McNabb, renewable energy development specialist with Oklahoma Department of Commerce, said the state has provided funding to develop that project through a Community Energy Strategic Planning grant. It’s a program adopted in several other Oklahoma Cities, including Sand Springs and Wilburton, and should eventually help the tribe, city and other organizations qualify for additional green energy grants.

“It’s not a great deal of money, but it’s a funding stream that enables the Delaware Nation to take an in-depth look at what they would like to do in partnership with the community of Anadarko when it comes to basically holistic energy planning, to figure out what makes sense and what the community would like to see done,” McNabb said. “The point is to actually pull all these things together and make it one cohesive strategy for the community as a whole.”

These programs are mostly in their infancy, but local leaders have reason to believe they will make a significant economic impact in the near future.

Carla Hall, executive director of the Anadarko Chamber of Commerce, said sometimes all a community needs to do is get the ball rolling, especially when it comes to forging partnerships.

She said she has full faith that both the GreenTech project as well as the tribal-community energy partnership will mean jobs for Anadarko.

“I’m very confident that the Delaware Nation is going to bring the jobs they are working toward and their goals for that facility – and it is going to be an economic boost that is likely to have a domino effect,” Hall said.

“I’m already receiving calls from area supply companies, like packaging companies, who are already interested in talking to them about their lighting company. With that will come more housing – which is one of our big drawbacks: lack of housing – and then retail will follow and possibly other manufacturing and that type of industry.”

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Information from: The Lawton Constitution, http://www.swoknews.com

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