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New economy forges fresh links in Ohio's supply chain

Doug Ventura, CEO of WebCore. Photos Ben French
Doug Ventura, CEO of WebCore. Photos Ben French

"Evolve or Die," should be the mantra for Ohio companies that want to survive and thrive in the new economy, says Robert Hatta, vice president, entrepreneurial talent, JumpStart Inc., the nationally recognized non-profit supporting entrepreneurial ventures in Ohio.

"JumpStart's portfolio and client companies are examples of how adaptability and innovation are creating new products, markets and jobs," Hatta says.

But it's not just high-tech startups that are demonstrating vision and flexibility. Scores of Ohio companies, many in business for decades, have entered the supply chain of new-tech business segments, including wind and solar, turning their expertise in one market into successful entries into another.

According to a January, 2011 report by the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), 106 Ohio companies have entered the wind power supply chain business and an additional 63 companies have entered the solar power supply chain.

ELPC identified 7,500 workers employed by wind industry suppliers in Ohio, and 1,500 solar manufacturing jobs in Ohio. Which demonstrates, according to ELPC, that, "Old-line manufacturing companies are re-tooling to make renewable energy equipment for growing markets."

WebCore challenges balsa

Since its 1991 inception as an application research, engineering and development company -- WebCore Technologies LLC, Miamisburg, has steadily evolved to a high-capacity manufacturer of high-tech materials for wind turbine blades. And re-tooling, in this case, has been of the business itself -- and not of the manufacturing process.

As inventors of TYCOR®, a fiber reinforced composite core, WebCore initially served the transportation, infrastructure and defense industries with specially designed composite-based solutions. In 2006, Webcore made its initial transition -- following a pilot production in Kettering to establishing an expanded production facility in Miamisburg and becoming a full-fledged manufacturer of the products.

2010 was a second sea-change period for WebCore, one that moved the company into position to challenge the competition for wind turbine blade manufacturing materials, according to WebCore CEO Doug Ventura.

"Several things happened to us in 2010," he says. "We raised some capital we needed for growth; we achieved GL certification; we put in place a strategic alliance with a fiberglass company, 3V; and we completed intensive research with independent people to quantify our strategic plan."

"We had TYCOR® W1,2,3,&4, Ventura says, "all with different properties. Those were designed to knock out the (balsa) competition. We began canvassing blade makers in Europe and Asia and the rest while we were selling the products -- discussing the future, validating our plan, and asking whether there were other things we needed to add to our portfolio."

The result of that careful research and planning was announced just 60 days ago, when WebCore introduced TYCOR W5, a product specifically engineered for the utility-scale wind blades.

"Wind turbines are getting bigger," Ventura says, "The average wind turbine now is 1.5 MW, but a lot of the new ones will be 2.5 and 3 MW. Offshore wind turbines will be 5 MW. Weight and strength of the blades are critical factors, with weight directly contributing to the cost of producing energy."

Melink goes solar

In Milford Ohio, just outside Cincinnati, sits the net-zero energy headquarters of Melink Corporation, one of the first buildings in the U.S and the world to earn that distinction. The Melink building is also the first LEED-Gold and LEED-Platinum EB certified office building in the state of Ohio and is Energy Star rated at 97 (out of 100).

When hundreds of people came to tour the building, and other businesses began asking how Melink had been able to achieve such energy efficiency -- and whether they might do the same -- Company President Steve Melink was happy to help. An energy epiphany in 2004 had literally changed his business and world view forever.

Melink Corporation was founded in 1987 as an HVAC testing and balancing firm for national accounts -- serving hospitals, schools, restaurants and other large energy users. When Steve Melink saw the energy waste caused by constant-volume commercial kitchen ventilation systems, he invented a solution called Intelli-Hood, which employs variable-speed fans based on actual cooking load.

As the core business grew, Melink launched a second line of business -- hiring and training a national corp of technicians across the country to serve their own clients and eventually those of other companies.

But it's Melink's third line of business that he is now most passionate about. In 2004, Steve Melink attended his first ever green-building conference, where he interacted with thousands of architects, engineers, manufacturers, contractors and building owners who were committed to developing a sustainable building industry.

"I had been in the energy efficiency business since 1987, "Melink says, "but I had never been exposed to this before. "This was different -- this was about making the world a better place. I knew we had to be a part of this."

Today, Melink Solar, provides design, installation, maintenance, monitoring and financing of solar photo-voltaic systems, focusing on large custom arrays and the manufacture of pre-engineered standard arrays. This year, Melink completed intallation of the largest publicly accessible, urban solar array in the country -- a 1.56 megawatt system with 6,400 panels installed on a canopy structure over the Cincinnati Zoo's Vine Street Parking Lot. In addition to providing shade for 800 parking spots, the panels will provide about 20 percent of the Zoo's energy needs.

And Steve Melink, at his own headquarters and before audiences everywhere, walks the talk by sharing the sustainability message wherever he can.

"I don't want people to think that we have to wait for some revolutionary technology," he says. "There is the potential to save energy nearly everywhere you look in a profit-and loss statement. It's about eliminating waste. Who doesn't want to eliminate waste? There is cost savings. We had an industrial age, a flight age, a space age, an Internet age, and I think we are now in an energy age. In a Forbes listing, last week, 5 of the 10 largest corporations in the world are energy companies. What does that tell us when 50-percent of the world's largest companies are in energy? I believe that clean energy will emerge as the way to power our economy."

For Melink and for WebCore's CEO, Doug Ventura, the evolution of their companies is a product of having their eyes open and embracing new energy technology. It's also a welcome challenge and an opportunity for greater success. WebCore's new business is expected to double the company's employee number from 35 to 70 by the end of 2011 and to require the addition of two new shifts. And Ventura expects the wind-energy supply chain business to contribute to substantial future growth.

"Wind will be our future for some time," Ventura says. "But we won't be sitting still."

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