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Addition of wind generator repair leads to growth for Litchfield business

LITCHFIELD -- A Litchfield company has become one of the few motor repair businesses in the country to specialize in wind generators. TRICO TCWIND Inc., formerly Tri-County Electric Motor Service, added a wind generator repair division about thre...

LITCHFIELD -- A Litchfield company has become one of the few motor repair businesses in the country to specialize in wind generators.

TRICO TCWIND Inc., formerly Tri-County Electric Motor Service, added a wind generator repair division about three years ago and recently expanded into a larger building in Litchfield to accommodate the growth.

Jamie McDonald opened the motor repair business 10 years ago and his five sons now also help run the business. The company employs 32 people and expects to grow to at least 50 employees in the next couple years, said Brice McDonald, general manager and Jamie's youngest son.

The company started out repairing electric motors for equipment used in the food, steel and railroad industries. The company still works on those types of motors, but now fixes and does maintenance on generators that power wind turbines throughout North America.

"That's been a new staple now," Brice McDonald said. "The business is exploding."

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McDonald said TRICO TCWIND sends its semi drivers across the country and Canada to pick up broken generators. They mostly go to California, Texas, New York, Washington, Iowa and Minnesota.

The company decided to add wind generator repair after visiting a wind farm in southern Minnesota, McDonald said.

The wind generator repair industry is expanding, but TRICO TCWIND feels it's a few steps ahead of new competitors, he said. They've purchased equipment that other plants in the United States don't have, he said. The company also is willing to take jobs other companies shy away from at the risk of losing a profit, McDonald said.

Most wind generators are made in Europe so they take "a little more expertise to fix them," he said.

Sometimes the company has to re-engineer the motors to fit the United States specifications. Motors run at 50 hertz in Europe, but 60 hertz in the United States. TRICO TCWIND adjusts the generators so that they can handle the faster speed, McDonald said.

"They all have their quirks," he said of the generators.

A couple months ago, TRICO TCWIND completed its move into the former Litchfield Woolen Mills building from its old location off U.S. Highway 12 north of Litchfield.

TRICO TCWIND is leasing the building from Scottish 6 properties, which is made up of TRICO TCWIND owners. Scottish 6 bought the $1.35 million property from Meeker County with bank financing and a $448,000 loan from the Meeker County Economic Development Authority and two other agencies.

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The former woolen mill has given TRICO TCWIND an additional 47,000 square feet of space, McDonald said.

"Now we're actually able to add people," he said.

TRICO TCWIND is required to add six jobs by the end of the year and one more by the end of 2007 as a part of a business subsidy agreement with the city of Litchfield. The City Council approved a Job Opportunity Building Zones agreement with TRICO TCWIND earlier this year.

JOBZ is a state program designed to improve economic development in rural Minnesota. It provides certain tax breaks to qualifying businesses until 2015.

TRICO TCWIND is expected to save up to $534,000 over the length of the program.

Its new division has lost the company some customers because they think they aren't doing other types of motor repair, McDonald said.

"We're doing a heck of a lot of wind, and we're also doing motors," McDonald clarified.

McDonald expects the wind energy industry to continue to grow in the United States, especially in Minnesota and the Dakotas, where the wind levels are ideal and land is inexpensive.

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"We haven't even scratched the surface yet," McDonald said. "It'll only just get bigger."

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