SIOUX CITY | A surge of wind power investments is blowing more jobs and development into Sioux City's Southbridge Business Park
Sabre Tubular Structures, which opened an $18 million fabrication plant in the park last year, is one of the largest U.S. suppliers of steel utility structures for transmission, distribution and substation applications.
Along with utilities upgrading the nation's aging electrical power grid, Sabre has benefited recently from a slew of projects to harness wind-generated electricity in Iowa and other Upper Midwest states.
The Sioux City Sabre plant is building poles for MidAmerican Energy Co., which is developing a series of high-voltage, overhead lines, known as “multi-value projects,” or MVPs, that are designed to alleviate congestion on the region's electric grid and provide a better route for sending Iowa and Minnesota wind power to the east.
One MidAmerican-backed MVP line will begin in Northwest Iowa's O'Brien County, with construction expected to start in 2015.
Sabre also announced last month it had been selected as a "preferred supplier" of structures for another wind-related transmission project originating in O'Brien. Called the Rock Island Clean Line, the $2 billion project would transport excess electricity from wind farms in Northwest Iowa and surrounding states to customers in the Chicago area and point east.
The Houston-based developer, Clean Line Energy Partners has agreed to buy an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 poles, from Sabre, or about four to five poles per mile for the 500-mile line. The project, which has an expected construction start of 2015, would generate $150 million to $200 million in additional business for Sabre, President and CEO Peter Sandore said at a Feb. 7 news conference in Sioux City.
Sandore said the Clean Line order will produce a demand for 100 to 150 million pounds of raw steel, as well as new jobs at the Sioux City plant.
The parent company, Sabre Industries, was founded in 1977 in Sioux City by Bailey Aalfs to manufacture high-frequency antenna systems. As cellular phone usage grew in the 1990s, the company began designing and fabricating towers for the wireless communication industry
In more recent years, Sabre's utility business has boomed. The company began manufacturing the structures at a plant in Alvardo, Texas, where Sabre maintains its headquarters.
In the event a natural disaster or other event forced the Alvardo facility out of commission, Sandore said Sabre decided to build for a second or "redundant" plant. The company considered several cities and states before selecting land in Southridge, located just south of Sioux Gateway Airport.
Iowa and Sioux City leaders struck a deal with Sabre in early 2012.
The city pledged a $1 million grant and the land in the business park, northwest of Southbridge Drive and 225th Street. The city also agreed to buy Sabre's current complex in the 2100 block of Murray Street for $2 million, and then lease it back to the company until it no longer needed it.
The state approved incentives that included a nearly $1 million forgivable loan.
The 192,000-square-foot fabrication plant opened in December 2012, the first phase in a multi-year expansion that will put all of the company's Sioux City operations under one roof, more than doubling its local employment.
An administration building opened in February at the 150-acre site, which also will include a series of other structures totaling 246,000 square feet.
Employment at the new Southbridge campus, which started with 269 workers has since increased to more than 300, including welders, fabricators, shipping clerks and administrators.
Sabre Executive Vice President Brian Newberg said the Sioux City plant continues to recruit welders and operators.
"We're hiring every month," Newberg said.
Two additional production bays are currently under construction at Southbridge. Sandore said the company expects to complete that project by this fall, allowing the remaining operations to relocate to Southbridge.
Sabre's communications tower operations are currently in two structures in the Bridgeport area and a facility along U.S. Highway 20, between Sioux City and Lawton.
So far, Sabre has invested in excess of $25 million at its Southbridge campus. Sandore said the company will next look to construct a galvanizing plant. That project, which could begin as early as 2015, would create additional jobs, he said.