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 " TECHMANSKI AND two representatives from a Brazilian transformer company met Dec. 12, 2016 with local and economic development leaders about the project. Whitefish Energy Holdings is a servicing company that was established 18 months ago to work on power-line construction, substation construction and environmental mitigation projects. According to a company prospectus, Comtrafo, a Brazilian transformer manufacturing company, recently purchased 51 percent of Whitefish Energy, shifting the company’s focus toward production of large-scale transformers for the U.S. market "  





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Energy company considering Flathead for new plant


From left: Comtrafo CFO Irineu Minato, Whitefish Energy Holdings CEO Andy Techmanski and Comtrafo Sales Manager Raphael Minato at the CFAC facility on Monday, Dec. 12. (Seaborn Larson/Daily Inter Lake)


" A Whitefish businessman is trumpeting plans to build a manufacturing facility in the Flathead Valley capable of supporting 1,000 new jobs. While the proposed venture has been met with cautious optimism from local business and community leaders, a number of significant hurdles stand in the way.

Andy Techmanski, chief executive of Whitefish Energy Holdings LLC, is exploring the possibility of building a transformer manufacturing plant at the former Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. site. In the first phase, Techmanski says the facility could employ about 250 people, while climbing to 1,000 employees once at full production.

But before breaking ground, Techmanski is banking on a list of external factors to support the project in different ways.

In order to develop the factory that is estimated to cost up to $40 million, Whitefish Energy needs utility companies like Flathead Electric and NorthWestern Energy to purchase approximately $20 million in pre-ordered transformers before production begins.

So far, efforts to secure those contracts have been fruitless since Techmanski began speaking with those companies in the last year. If he successfully secures the pre-orders, Techmanski hopes those contracts will comfort potential loan officers and investors.

If the company gains the financial support from utilities, banks and investors, Techmanski plans to make a pitch to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development with an eye on millions of dollars in cash grants, tax credits and financing guarantees. He plans to pitch his business as a template for a program that could be used to attract other businesses to Montana.

“There are several hurdles, by far the biggest one is getting into agreements with utilities,” Techmanski said.

Still, he remains confident in the plan.

“No one else is talking about bringing 1,000 jobs to Montana,” he said. “No one has talked about that in 30 years.”

TECHMANSKI AND two representatives from a Brazilian transformer company met Dec. 12 with local and economic development leaders about the project. Whitefish Energy Holdings is a servicing company that was established 18 months ago to work on power-line construction, substation construction and environmental mitigation projects. According to a company prospectus, Comtrafo, a Brazilian transformer manufacturing company, recently purchased 51 percent of Whitefish Energy, shifting the company’s focus toward production of large-scale transformers for the U.S. market.

“Whitefish [Energy Holdings] was essentially established to carry through with this vision,” Techmanski told the Inter Lake. “We’ve known for several years that the logistical advantage of having the factory in the United States is where our company needs to be.”

Raphael Minato, sales manager of Comtrafo, and his uncle, Comtrafo Chief Financial Officer Irineu Minato, made the weekend trip to survey the North Valley and meet with the business community. Back in Brazil, Comtrafo currently runs its own transformer manufacturing facility, which employs approximately 1,000 people. Techmanski and the Minatos want to build a mirroring facility in Columbia Falls, employing the same number of people building an expanded product line.

WHITEFISH ENERGY and Comtrafo are looking to outside sources to help gain financing, but Techmanski said, “We’ll be the biggest investor in the business, for sure.” He did not specify how much either company would contribute to the development in total, but did add that the factory would operate under the Whitefish Energy name, rather than Comtrafo.

Techmanski and the Comtrafo representatives on Monday visited the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. facility — Techmanski’s first choice for the new factory. While the Environmental Protection Agency three months ago listed the property as a Superfund site, he hopes to use the existing buildings on the property to house the transformer factory. Techmanski said he wanted to use every building on the property, but not develop in the waste area currently undergoing a remediation process.

If the CFAC property falls through, he said he’d consider the Columbia Falls Industrial Park and the former Plum Creek mills now owned by Weyerhaeuser Co.

John Stroiazzo, project manager at Columbia Falls Aluminum, who was not present during Monday’s gathering, said Techmanski has been in contact with the company about the project. Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. is open to seeing the property redeveloped, but Stroiazzo said that Techmanski would have to begin coordinating with the EPA on future plans in order to make that happen.

“We have no firm information from him about exactly what he wants to do,” Stroiazzo said. “We’re willing to listen, but like I said, we’re not the only decision-maker at this time. He’s got to blend in with the regulators.”

Techmanski said he doesn’t want to get involved in the Superfund cleanup, so he’s looking for an investor to purchase CFAC land, then lease from the investor. On Monday, he said Columbia Falls businessman Mick Ruis has been supportive of the project and that they had talked about Ruis investing. When approached about the transformer business, Ruis had this to say: “I told him I’d be very interested.”

TECHMANSKI AND the Minatos on Monday also met with Columbia Falls City Manager Susan Nicosia and Montana West Economic Development President Jerry Meerkatz; both will be essential to Techmanski succeeding in grant and loan programs.

“It went well,” Nicosia said. “Obviously it’s still a preliminary discussion.”

She said the aluminum plant is too far from the city to annex, but the property could be connected to city services. Nicosia also said the city would work with Montana’s congressional delegation, adding that U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke’s office has already reached out to her about the project.

Meerkatz said after meeting the Brazilians, he’s ready to begin building a team of economic development affiliates to pool resources for the project as more details emerge about the project.

“Now, we basically try to coordinate the next step,” he said.

But Meerkatz also underlined how critical the backlogged transformer purchases by local utilities will be to the project’s success.

“I think that’s very key,” he said. “If we don’t have a backlog or some degree of backlog, I’m not sure we have a project.”

FLATHEAD ELECTRIC spokeswoman Wendy Ostrom-Price said the utility company’s engineering staff met with Techmanski earlier this year. Although Flathead Electric bids out its transformer purchases from producers around the country, Ostrom-Price said the company would continue talks with Techmanski.

Techmanski on Thursday said he spoke with Flathead Electric General Manager Mark Johnson, but was unable to secure any sales commitments.

A NorthWestern Energy employee actually traveled to Brazil to meet with Comtrafo officials, according to NorthWestern Energy spokesman Butch Lacrombe. This is pretty typical for NorthWestern when engaging with companies it hasn’t done business with before, Lacrombe said. NorthWestern also bids out its transformer purchases and hasn’t committed any purchases to Whitefish Energy Holdings.

“There’s a lot to be done before we enter into agreements with them, but we’re definitely open to what they have to say and seeing if it could work,” Larcombe said.

For now, Techmanski is coordinating new meetings each day, waiting to see who will buy in.

“This is kind of the kick-off to this venture or investment,” he said. “This is where it begins.”

Hungry Horse News Editor Chris Peterson contributed to this story.



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HBC Investments

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   " Prior to closing a deal with the federal government to rebuilt Puerto Rico’s power grid, a Trump donor-funded electric company failed to open a factory, and only worked on a handful of small projects.

Despite that thin record, Montana-based Whitefish Energy was selected last week to rebuild  Puerto Rico’s power grid, which was struggling even before Hurricane Maria. The project is estimated to cost $300 million — nearly 300 times the price of the largest project Whitefish Energy has previously completed.

 Before securing the Puerto Rico deal, Whitefish Energy’s only federal contracts were for installing power lines or working on electrical stations in Arizona. Public records show Whitefish Energy’s first federal contract in September 2016 was for $134,000 deal to install power lines in Arizona. The company’s second contracts was a $38,000 agreement to finish some remaining work on the Arizona power lines. Its final contract, secured in July 2017, was a $1.3 million job at an Arizona electrical substation.

A Whitefish Energy spokesperson said the company shouldn’t be judged on those projects, alone.

“Those two projects you referred to are ones specific to Whitefish, is in no way a full representation of [CEO Andy Techmanski’s] book of work,” spokesperson Chris Chiames told The Daily Beast. “Whitefish CEO has a 20+year career in the utility industry, starting as a journeyman lineman and eventually holding project management and executive jobs with utility repair companies. Over the course of his career, he has worked on projects of all sizes, up to and including ones for $200+ million.”

But not all Techmanski’s business ventures have panned out. In 2010, he founded California nonprofit Energized International, which folded in 2010 citing “financial hardship,” according to state business records.

Whitefish has only been in business since June 2015, Montana business records show. The company lists approximately $1 million in annual revenue, and two full-time employees on publicly available documents.


 When Whitefish Energy opened in 2015, it billed itself as a power line construction company. But business appears to have been slow. Public records show the company earning no federal contracts within its first year of business. The following year, Whitefish Energy sold a 51 percent stake to the Brazilian transformer company Comtrafo, Montana’s Daily Inter Lake reported.



 Shortly after the sale, Whitefish Energy was back in the news with headline-grabbing offer: the company had rebranded as a transformer manufacturer, and would open a 1,000-job transformer plant in Montana. But the offer came with a catch. Before they built the factory, Whitefish Energy wanted Montana utilities companies to buy approximately $20 million in transformers, Montana’s Hungry Horse News reported at the time. The companies did not agree to the purchase, and the project stalled.

After Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, Whitefish moved to beef up its staff. Whitefish told CNN on Friday that it had approximately 300 staff on Puerto Rico, and was hoping to bring another 700 to the island, along with construction equipment, which was stuck in Florida at the time.

“Andy Techmanski founded Whitefish on a business model that had a small company staff that was able to scale up quickly to take on jobs of all sizes,” Chiames said, adding that the company has added workers in Puerto Rico “at a rate of 10-20 per day as workers are cleared for duty and more equipment is delivered to the island.”

Whitefish has been working in Puerto Rico since September 26, although the company’s early efforts were slowed when they found planes backed up at Puerto Rico’s airports. Techmanski told NBC Montana on October 1 that he asked Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for help getting Whitefish Energy onto the ground in Puerto Rico. (Techmanski told CNN last week “we called each other” when asked how Whitefish got the federal government’s business.)



 Techmanski and Zinke know each other personally, the Washington Post reported. Whitefish Energy takes its name from the town of Whitefish, Montana, where both men live. Zinke’s office told the Post that they two men only know each other because Whitefish is a small town where “everybody knows everybody.” One of Zinke’s sons took a summer job at one of Techmanski’s construction sites, but Techmanski and Zinke’s office told the Post that the Zinke connection played no factor in Whitefish Energy’s bid for the Puerto Rico contract.

Whitefish Energy’s investors are also well-connected in the Trump administration. Whitefish Energy is backed by HBC Investments, a Texas-based firm whose founder gave $20,000 to the Trump Victory PAC, as well as the maximum $2,700 to both Trump’s primary and general election campaigns, and $30,700 to the Republican National Committee in 2016, the Daily Beast previously reported.





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hitefish Energy Holdings LLC, is based in Whitefish, Montana, servicing customers throughout the United States and now, proudly, Puerto Rico. WEH’s leadership and field management teams have proven track records and experience to execute on the most challenging projects. The Company’s extensive subcontractor relationships enable it to address projects at any scale while minimizing overhead and passing cost savings through to the client.

Established in 2015, WEH is led by industry veteran Andy Techmanski who is a trained journeyman lineman with over 22 years of experience completing critical utility infrastructure projects worldwide. Techmanski is supported by a construction management team with decades of experience navigating mountainous terrain and difficult construction scenarios.

Whitefish is backed by HBC Investments (HBC) and Flat Creek Capital (FCC), both based in Dallas, TX, and Comtrafo Transformers, based in Brazil. HBC is an investment firm that partners with strong management teams with proven track records, having successfully invested over $100mm in companies across various sectors. FCC is an investment fund focused on growth capital investments and has successfully invested in 12 portfolio companies since inception. Comtrafo produces distribution and power transformers, primarily focused on the energy and power industry." 

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Image for illustrative purposes" Image for illustrative purposes"

USA, Columbia Falls: Company officials from a Brazilian transformer manufacturer Comtrafo S.A. visited Columbia Falls in Montana, USA to consider options for establishing a local transformer manufacturing plant, casting an eye toward the former site of the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company.

" The owner of Comtrafo and the company’s chief financial officer have partnered with Andy Techmanski of Whitefish Energy Holdings to explore building a transformer plant in North America, with a Flathead Valley location as their top choice, reports Flathead Beacon.

The manufacturing plant would construct and service power transformerssubstations and power lines for regional utilities.

“This would position us as the only transformer manufacturer in the Pacific Northwest, and it is very much within our grasp,” Techmanski said. The plant would be the only such facility in the region capable of manufacturing 345 kV power transformers.

Techmanski estimated the plant would employ 1,000 workers at maximum market potential and 250 employees initially. "




 "TECHMANSKI AND two representatives from a Brazilian transformer company met Dec. 12, 2016  with local and economic development leaders about the project. Whitefish Energy Holdings is a servicing company that was established 18 months ago to work on power-line construction, substation construction and environmental mitigation projects. According to a company prospectus, Comtrafo, a Brazilian transformer manufacturing company, recently purchased 51 percent of Whitefish Energy, shifting the company’s focus toward production of large-scale transformers for the U.S. market.