President Barack Obama visited three businesses in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, this week on the heels of the State of the Union address. The main event was his address to the employees of Orion Energy Systems Inc.
Orion designs and produces energy management systems consisting primarily of high-performance, energy efficient lighting systems and controls. Their core line is a high intensity fluorescent lighting system that produces twice the quantity of lighting at one-half the electricity usage compared to standard lighting systems. The company also manufactures solar day-lighting products and distributes solar light tubes.
President Obama also visited Skana Aluminum Company, an aluminum rolling mill, and Tower Tech Systems, a manufacturer of towers for wind turbines. In addition to the companies’ entrepreneurship, innovation, and clean energy initiatives, he recognized their importance of job creation. Orion has added 200 employees since 2003 and Skana Aluminum, a start-up in 2010, expects to employ 80 by the end of the year. In his address at Orion, the president noted that Orion and Skana Aluminum had received assistance from the USDA.
Both Orion and Skana Aluminum received loan guarantees through the USDA Rural Development, Business and Cooperative Services, Business & Industry (B&I) Program. Orion obtained their B&I guaranteed loan in 2004 and Skana Aluminum in 2010.
The B&I guaranteed loan to Skana Aluminum was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, (Recovery Act) which provided businesses over $1.6 billion in B&I guaranteed loans, nation-wide. Skana Aluminum purchased and restarted the shuttered plant in July 2010. Initially Skana Aluminum projected to create 43 jobs with an average hourly wage of $26.00/hour. Skana began production of aluminum coils and made their first shipments at the end of July 2010. Skana currently has 63 employees, exceeding initial projections by 20 employees.
Orion and Skana Aluminum are manufacturing companies. The companies are great examples that demonstrate the benefits of the B&I Guaranteed Loan program. They have established and maintained credit relationships with local community banks, Hometown Bank and Community Bank & Trust, respectively. Through their bank relationships they accessed the B&I Guaranteed Loan program and used the program to establish a foundation for long-term debt financing that enables them to concentrate on the performance and growth of their businesses.
Orion’s growth and success affirms the president’s initiatives of “winning the future” through innovation. Skana Aluminum is a perfect example of a new company that has located into an existing manufacturing facility that was no longer in use. They turned it around and reinvigorated the site with a new business that produces high quality goods and services.
Through these successes, the two companies demonstrate the opportunities in our rural communities when they recognize the value of their community assets and workforce resources, develop active entrepreneurship, and work together with community, regional, state, and federal partners.