When it comes to energy, Colorado is a preferred alternative.
by Ron Starner
ron.starner bounce@conway.com

Ashutosh Misra, Ascent Solar's senior vice president of
 operations and general manager for the company's plant in Thornton, Colo., is pictured in front of
newly delivered manufacturing equipment that will be used to produce thin-film photovoltaic modules.
Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper wants to make his city and region among the greenest in the world. To do that, he's going to need help from companies like Ascent Solar and Vestas Wind Systems, two firms that recently expanded in the area surrounding the Mile High City.
      The mayor's Greener Denver program aims to reduce the emission of carbon gases while creating jobs in the clean, renewable energy sector. "We want green savings, green opportunities and green talent," Hickenlooper tells Site Selection. "And we want to help local businesses grow the demand for green products and services."
      Enter Ascent and Vestas, at locations just north of the city center. On March 25, Denmark-based Vestas broke ground on two wind-energy manufacturing facilities in Brighton that will create 1,350 jobs, a day after Ascent Solar opened its world headquarters and manufacturing plant in Thornton. The developer of thin-film solar modules will add 200 jobs over the next two years.
      To the mayor of Denver, these projects are just the beginning. "Our goal is to create a green work force," he says. "This whole effort has a business arm; we call it Greener Denver Business. It is part of how we grow innovative products and services in the metro Denver market and how we build up our emerging clean-tech center."
      Hickenlooper says success stories like Ascent and Vestas are no accident. "We have been working on the wind and solar sectors since 2003, and our governor has made this a priority," the mayor notes. "We are one of the best places in America to locate wind energy, and we have 300 days of sunshine and a lot of potential for solar power."

No Contest
      Brian Blackman, director of investor relations for Ascent Solar in Thornton, tells Site Selection that his firm never considered any other location besides Colorado.
      "We are based in Colorado, and while the company had experience in locating plants in two places, we did not want to have to deal with travel or logistics issues. The Denver area made sense for a lot of reasons. It has a lot of sun. The area is very pro-renewable energy. Other solar companies are located here. A lot of R&D operations are based here, as is the National Laboratory of Renewable Energy. The weather and the people here are nice, and metro Denver has rapidly become a hub for this industry."
      The US$4-million Ascent plant creates 65 jobs initially in Thornton. The company recycled an existing 120,000-sq.-ft. (11,148-sq.-m.) building and expanded it to 145,000 sq. ft. (13,471 sq. m.) for the manufacture of 30 megawatts of solar capacity.
      Blackman says Ascent chose Thornton because "it has an interesting footprint of technical companies. We looked at facilities throughout the Denver area, but the representatives of this facility showed an aggressive interest in having Ascent Solar locate there. This building quickly became the best that money could buy, the best dollar-for-dollar value in real estate. It is very close to the highway, with convenient access to the airport," he adds. "It is a good location for shipping logistics, and it is the right size."
      The firm also likes the surrounding high-tech support, notes Blackman. "The area colleges and universities hold an important role in our industry," he says. "The local schools are beginning to offer green-tech degrees. They have a big influence in how they drive the future of this industry. Colorado State and other universities have shown a lot of promise."

Special Thanks to Ron Starner and Site Selection Magazine

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