LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A Denmark-based manufacturer of windmill blades announced Wednesday it will open a factory and North American headquarters in Little Rock, a $150 million project that will employ more than 1,000 people.
Gov. Mike Beebe and economic development officials announced that LM Glasfiber will begin construction this fall on its plant, to be on 135 acres at the Little Rock Port along the Arkansas River.
The plant is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2008, the company said.
The announcement ended months of negotiations by state and local leaders, who up until Wednesday referred to the windmill plant as Project Zephyrus, named for the Greek god of the western wind. Arkansas Economic Development Chief Maria Haley said the project was eventually referred to in the shorthand as ''Project Z.''
''Now it's time to call it officially by its real name,'' Haley said in a news conference announcing the project at the state Capitol.
Warren Ault, national account manager for LM Glasfiber, said the company hopes to break ground on the factory in September and will initially hire about 500 workers. The plant will employ at least 1,000 workers over the next five years and will include a training facility for the company.
The company is expected to manufacture blades ranging from 120 feet to 220 feet in length at the facility.
Beebe and company officials said Little Rock was one of three sites being considered by LM Glasfiber for the production facility. Ault said the Arkansas site was originally not the top pick when the site selection process began earlier this year, but would not say which other sites were being considered.
''We put our best foot forward and we told them about the Arkansas people and we told them about the Arkansas work ethic and commitment. We told them about where we wanted to go as a state and as a people,'' Beebe said. ''We told them we wanted them there with us.''
To sweeten the deal, the state lured the company with tax breaks and nearly $17 million in incentives. Legislation Beebe signed into law earlier this year exempted an unnamed windmill blade manufacturer from paying income tax through 2033 if it moves to the state by Dec. 31 and hires at least 1,000 employees within its first five years of operation. The measure also requires the company to spend at least $150 million within four years and initially hire at least 500 people within the first two years of opening.
Beebe also said the state offered the company $8.9 million from a $50 million ''quick action closing fund'' approved by lawmakers earlier this year to attract new businesses and help existing businesses expand. Beebe also offered the company another $8 million in incentives.
Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said the city provided the $4.5 million Little Rock Port site to the company.
''It's this type of corporate citizenry that's going to place Little Rock as the next great American city in the south,'' Stodola said. ''We weren't in first place to begin with, but we kept pushing and pushing.''
Ault said the incentives helped but said the site's location and the area's workforce were bigger factors in the company's move to Arkansas.
''Those are ultimately going to contribute to our success or demise in the long term,'' Ault said. ''Incentives are a component with site selection but really a minor component. The thing we can look at is we've got two freeways, we've got dual rail to the port and we've got inland marine ... We really have to have room to move and the ability to bring in people to meet our demand.''
LM Glasfiber had $3.54 billion in sales in 2006. The company has eight manufacturing plants and 4,200 employees.
In North Dakota, LM Glasfiber has a plant in Grand Forks, where it employs about 700 people.
Ault said the company produces about one-third of the windmill blades in the market and operates 10 factories in eight countries. The company's only other U.S. plant, in Grand Forks, N.D., opened in 1999 with about 60 workers and company officials late last year announced plans to increase its work force to more than 700.
The company also has a sales office in Chicago.
Wednesday's announcement capped a series of site expansions and new projects Beebe has heralded in the months since the state lost a highly publicized fight to attract a Toyota Motor Corp. plant to east Arkansas. Earlier this year, Toyota announced it would build a $1.3 billion plant near Tupelo, Miss. rather than in Marion.
Last month, Welspun Group Inc. of India announced it would build a $100 million pipe plant at the port. That plant will supply pipe for offshore oil drilling. Also last month, corporate jet maker Dassault Falcon announced a $20 million expansion of its Little Rock operations.