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Wind farm migrants a breath of fresh air for county

Staff writer

Raul Iniguez breaks into a big grin when he talks about Marion County.

“These people are good,” he says. “Nice. Nobody is saying ‘Go home to Mexico.’ ”

Iniguez is in the area working on a wind farm. He’s an employee of Wanzek, contracted by Orsted, a Norwegian company.

He’s been in Kansas for three months and expects to be here for at least four more. Like many of his co-workers, the Arkansas resident is living at a campground at Marion’s VFW.

All 16 camping spots are in use — all but one or two by wind farm workers.

About 300 people are working in some capacity on the wind farm , an Orsted spokesman said.

Construction will slow down in the middle of next year, but for now Iniguez and his co-workers are a boon to the economy.

“I can attest that the wind farm workers are renting housing, spending money in our grocery stores, eating out, going to our gas stations and pharmacy,” county planning and zoning director Sharon Omstead said. “I’ve seen them in all those places.

“I’ve seen them in the barber shops. Some of their kids are enrolled in our local school districts. So they’re helping our economy in ways that not everyone knows about.”

Iniguez likes shopping at Carlsons’ Grocery. He buys what he needs to make carne asada in his RV at the VFW.

“The family pizza place,” he says, struggling to remember the restaurant’s name.

Gambino’s Pizza?

“Yeah! I like it!” he says enthusiastically.

Judy Smith, Gambino’s owner, likes to hear that and has noticed more business.

“I always strike up a conversation with our customers and ask them what brings them to Marion,” she says. “So I’ve met a few of them. There are a couple of regulars.”

Projects such as this “always help the economy,” she says.

This is the second time Robert Bush has worked at a wind farm with Wanzek project manager Jimmy Ripley.

From Virginia, Bush has worked on wind farms in South Dakota and Oklahoma.

Bush, who came out to the VFW on Saturday night, is considering making Marion his home base.

The local people here are “really nice and friendly,” he says.

Wherever crews go, “we try to go to local grocery stores and Laundromats,” he says.

When he needs something for his Dually truck, he goes to 56 Express Tire & Service.

He frequents Zera Coffee, which offers specialty coffee drinks and ice cream.

“I’ve gotten real close to the kids here,” supporting football and baseball teams, Bush says.

Greg Carlson, who co-owns the eponymous food store, doesn’t always know who’s a wind farm worker.

Ripley says he always makes a point of wearing his Wanzek vest when shopping at Carlsons’ and other places because he wants people to know he and the workers he supervises support local businesses.

Carlsons’ has sold pallets of water to Wanzek.

“We have catered four meals for them when they feed the landowners,” Greg Carlson says.

Brandy Self works at the VFW bar and says wind farm employees “don’t cause any trouble whatsoever. They’re very respectful.”

They come in mostly on the weekends after 8 or 9 p.m., she says.

Deb Steward, who has bartended there for close to three years, says having the workers in town has been good for business.

“Some brought their whole family,” she says. “Some brought their kids and their dogs.

“We like them because they don’t make trouble.”

Last modified Oct. 6, 2022

 

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