The jury is absolutely out as to whether this will even become a real company.
Rochester, NY, Jan 11, 2011 — WindTamer, the Rochester-based startup that makes small wind turbines, announced Monday that it's expanding in New York. The move comes with substantial taxpayer help, but as the Innovation Trail's Zack Seward reports, one analyst warns this fairy tale might not have a happy ending.
Imagine, if you will, WindTamer as a fair maiden — fairy tale style. The beautiful young startup makes daffodil-shaped wind turbines that may one day spread the magic of green energy to the far corners of the globe. Two powerful suitors — New York and Pennsylvania — are locked in fierce competition for the fair maiden's hand. They both want her as theirs, and offer promises of lavish gifts. On Monday, one suitor seemed to prevail. Sort of. "The New York package is relatively... We're happy with it." That's Cherrie Mahon, VP of Investor Relations at WindTamer. She says the company's grateful for the $1.5 million incentive package, which was mostly funded by New York's Empire State Development Corporation. WindTamer gets the money if they create 91 jobs over the next five years. They're on the hook for about 60 in 2011 alone. But it's clear that WindTamer isn't quite ready to settle down for good. "It's great that New York wants us here and has put forth the effort to do it," said Mahon. "But as we expand in the future we're certainly not going to close our eyes to other states or other offers." That's because that other suitor, Pennsylvania, is waiting in the wings. Mahon says there's still a deal on the table with the Keystone State that WindTamer can sign if they choose to expand further. But what exactly are these two suitors fighting over? "The jury is absolutely out as to whether this will even become a real company." That's George Conboy, president of the local brokerage firm Brighton Securities. He says a look at WindTamer's publicly available SEC filings and recent balance sheets should give investors plenty of pause. Conboy's not a wind power expert, but he questions the public investment, and says this princess could turn out to be a frog. "Their turbine may be a wonderful thing," said Conboy. "If energy prices rise, then sure it could be a great thing. So far they've raised a lot of money, made a little bit of noise, but haven't put any numbers on the books." But WindTamer maintains that 2011 will be a banner year. The company cites interest from the U.S. Army and other large organizations as the basis for between $15 and $25 million in projected sales this year. That's the good news. Mahon admits none of the big deals have been inked yet. Just last month, WindTamer furloughed a quarter of its small production staff. And the company's five executives and 12 remaining employees are working for stock instead of money into the spring. Those cash flow issues are red flags, according to analyst Conboy. "The concern, of course, would be whether our elected or appointed officials have kicked the tires hard enough on this company to be sure that it's worth offering the kinds of incentives and tax relief that they've offered in this most recent deal," said Conboy. One of those officials is Judy Seil. Her County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency (COMIDA) helped out with some tax breaks for WindTamer. Seil says keeping the homegrown clean-energy startup in town is worth the public investment, despite the company's recent filings. "Well, the company will be investing significantly in equipment, in people and we would like to keep a company that was developed here locally in our community," said Seil. We reached out to Empire State Development to ask about their decision to invest in WindTamer. The primary funder offered only a brief written statement, pointing out that our story's fair maiden doesn't get her riches until after "job and investment commitments" are fulfilled.