FORT MADISON — Almost 200 employees at the Siemens manufacturing plant in Fort Madison lost their jobs over the last two days in a round of layoffs.
A Siemens Gamesa spokesperson confirmed to The Hawk Eye last week “a difficult decision has been made to adjust the Fort Madison workforce by about 195 employees.”
Notification of the layoffs began with third-shift workers Tuesday and continued through the 24-hour plant’s remaining shifts Wednesday.
The spokesperson said about 330 employees will remain working at the facility.
“Business volume at this location through the 2018 fiscal year does not support the existing workforce level,” according to a Siemens Gamesa statement. “While we remain strongly committed to the long-term viability of the U.S. wind market, a difficult decision has been made to adjust the Fort Madison workforce by about 195 employees. As a reflection of the importance of Fort Madison to our business strategy moving forward, we are making a significant capital investment at the plant to install additional blade molds for new wind turbine models.”
Joe Steil, CEO of Lee County Economic Development Group, said Wednesday Siemens was among one of two largest employers in Fort Madison and drew employees from Iowa, Illinois and Missouri.
“Definitely any time there are layoffs that is of grave concern to us because we want southeast Iowa flourishing with employment opportunities, good opportunities and stable employment,” Steil said. “That just makes for a much stronger economic vibrancy within southeast Iowa and the tri-state region.”
Steil said those searching for employment opportunities should look at the Iowa Works website and utilize any job-seeking information provided by Siemens.
“No question this is a big concern to us to have a layoff of this proportion,” he said. “But I know there’s a rapid response team that is already working with both Siemens and the workers themselves.”
Siemens opened its Fort Madison wind turbine plant in 2007.
According to an undated fact sheet posted on the company’s website, the plant south of Fort Madison was expanded to nearly 600,000 square feet in 2008, which included manufacturing and warehouse space. A $3.4 million package of tax incentives from the U.S. Department of Energy helped with expansion of the plant. In April 2010, it was producing 36 blades a week.
In April 2010, then-president Barack Obama visited the Fort Madison facility.
As part of Obama’s economic stimulus package to bring the U.S. out of the recession, the president prioritized renewable energy through investments in wind and solar technology.
Wind accounts for 31 percent of electricity generated in the state, making Iowa the nation’s leader in wind power generation. Iowa and Illinois have the highest density of wind power generation capacity in the country, with about 11,000 megawatts of capacity between the two Midwestern states.
Employment at the plant has a history of gains and losses.
In September 2012, with the workforce at the plant exceeding 700, according to reporting in The Hawk Eye, the plant responded to a slowdown in the wind energy business by laying off more than 500 permanent and temporary workers, dropping employment there to just 220 by November 2012.
Employment rebounded in 2014 after orders rose.
Elsewhere, Siemens announced in August 2017 the layoff of 140 workers at a plant in Hutchinson, Kan., where turbine nacelles are manufactured. Also last summer, the company closed a 340-worker turbine blade manufacturing facility in Ontario, Canada.
President Donald Trump has been critical of the renewable energy industry, favoring instead coal, natural gas and nuclear power. Bringing back coal mining jobs was a central promise of his presidential campaign.
At a rally in Cedar Rapids last June, the president was touting his commitment to the coal industry when he said: “I don’t want to just hope the wind blows to light up your homes and your factories.” A few seconds later, he made a reference to birds “falling to the ground” because they were killed by wind turbines.
The New York Times reported last month that the tax bill Congress passed in December “preserves key tax credits for wind and solar power and electric vehicles,” despite the administration’s tough talk against the industries.
According to the Times, Scott Pruitt, chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, said last October, “I would do away with these incentives that we give to wind and solar. I’d let them stand on their own and compete against coal and natural gas.”