Economist believes TPI closing won’t impact Newton like Maytag did

NEWTON — The closure of a wind turbine blade factory in Newton will be a blow to the area, but an Iowa State University economist says it won’t have the same impact as when Maytag left the community.

TPI Composites started making blades in Newton about a year after Maytag quit making washing machines in 2007. TPI plans to stop production and lay off more than 700 workers by the end of this year. ISU economist Liesl Eathington says that’s a lot of jobs for a city of 15,000, but the impact is more isolated because TPI has fewer ties to local suppliers.

Eathington says, “Because that firm was not as deeply rooted into the local economy as Maytag had been, I don’t think the consequences are going to be felt as much.” Eathington says the economies of Newton and Jasper County are also more connected to the Des Moines area since Maytag closed, which adds stability to the local economy.

TPI made blades for General Electric, but GE purchased a rival blade manufacturer and has ended its relationship with TPI. It’s a setback for Newton but not a sign the wind industry is on the decline. The wind industry is on a growth trajectory, according to Pavel Molchanov, a stock analyst who covers TPI for the investment firm Raymond James. He says with G-E out, a new customer could come in.

Molchanov says, “In fact, very likely there will be a replacement customer to buy blades from this factory, but it’s not going to happen instantaneously.” He says it won’t come soon enough to keep 710 workers from being laid off. ISU’s Eathington says because of the overall labor shortage in Iowa, other employers in the area are likely to recruit TPI workers to fill open positions.