The dozens of jobs being created to build the Shepherds Flat Wind Farm are economic manna for distressed Gilliam and Morrow counties.
“We basically have zero industry,” says Gilliam County Judge Pat Shaw. “This is a big boost to our economy.”
At least 100 jobs in construction and related industries are expected to be created over two years. Jack Ingram, who is co-owner with Gene Williamson of Arlington-based W.I. Construction, a concrete provider, was awarded a $23 million contract to provide road materials. “It’s an absolute saving grace,” he says. His sales in 2009 decreased 94% from the year before.
W.I. Construction started work on March 3. Ingram expects to provide 25 to 30 jobs and subcontract with three local businesses. His normal staffing level is seven.
The Shepherds Flat Wind Farm will be the largest wind farm in the world when completed in 2012, with 338 wind turbines across 30 square miles in Gilliam and Morrow counties powering about 235,000 homes a year. It will have 35 full-time employees when operational.
Shepherds Flat will have impact beyond job creation. Shaw expects 20 years of population decline to end as people move there for work, and public school enrollment would in turn increase.
The county annually will receive between $4 million and $5 million in property taxes. A community service fee that wind farms pay each year could total up to $500,000. The money will be used for libraries, schools and infrastructure service improvements. “We look to the wind farms to sustain the county’s finances,” Shaw says.
Jessica Bates, Gilliam County’s economic developer, says Shepherds Flat only represents a third of the wind farms Gilliam County could have in the coming decades.