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ZF Wind Power plant opens in Gainesville
Gov. Deal: Facility represents cutting-edge technology
Gov. Nathan Deal addresses a crowd this afternoon during the grand opening of the ZF Wind Power plant in Gainesville. The plant, which will begin operations in 2012, is slated to employ 250 people. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

With the help of Gov. Nathan Deal and a host of other dignitaries, the ZF Wind Power plant officially opened Tuesday in the new Gainesville Business Park.

Some 200 people gathered in the plant's shipping and assembly area for a ceremony that featured a line of speakers and a ribbon cutting around a model of one of the 16-ton Atlas 1 wind turbine gearboxes the plant will produce.

"This facility represents cutting-edge technology," Deal told those attending the event.

He added that Georgia may lack steady winds, "but we certainly are pleased that we can be part of the process that will allow us to harness wind energy."

The plant at 1925 New Harvest Drive, off Calvary Church Road, will produce gearboxes for wind turbines, with full production set to get under way in 2012. It also is expected to create some 250 jobs.

"This opening represents a $98 million investment in construction and manufacturing equipment," said Elizabeth Umberson, president of ZF Wind Power.

The group also heard from Michael Paul, member of ZF Group's board of management and CEO of the company's industrial technology division, and Johnny Hoy Henriksen, senior vice president with Vestas, which will receive ZF gearboxes at its Colorado wind turbine plant.

Deal told the crowd that in his first overseas economic trip, he visited England and Germany and saw "some of the things that are happening in the green energy movement."

A trip to Frankfurt, Germany, to catch a flight afforded Deal his first real opportunity to "see windmills in action."

"As we got closer to the coastal area there, there were windmills everywhere," he said.

As part of the trip, he visited a plant that casts the iron for hubs that house wind turbine gearboxes.

"If you think the gearboxes are big — and they are big — can you imagine what one of those hubs that they fit inside look like?" Deal said.

"We're just pleased that Georgia and especially North Georgia ... can be a part of the ongoing effort in the alternative energy movement.

"We think this facility here is another step forward for our state. We're becoming a state in which alternative energy providers are looking and locating."

Doug Carter, a Gainesville native and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce chairman, introduced Deal, who also hails from Hall County.

"Truly, these are the types of events that those of us in the chamber world live for," Carter said.

Gainesville's ZF Group also encompasses ZF Industries, a transmission-manufacturing company that opened a plant in 1987.

Earlier this year, ZF was recognized by the Technical College System of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Economic Development as the state's leading medium-size manufacturer, distinguished among other nominees with 500 employees or less.