Influx of utility workers benefits local economy

Xcel Energy’s Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant outage energizes the local community economically every two years by creating jobs and generating sales.
“Many of the 2,000 workers will come from out of state, so we typically experience an increase in sales and sales tax revenue while they are here,” said Sandy Suchy, Monticello Chamber of Commerce & Industry executive director.
Hotels, restaurants, retail stores, gas stations, auto repair centers, florists, grocery stores and numerous other businesses directly benefit from a plant outage when utility workers arrive in town.

Amanda Fiedler, community development coordinator for the city of Becker, volunteer Aaron Othoudt and Rachel Wernsing, assistant director at the Monticello Chamber of Commerce, are pictured with some of the items placed into the 500 utility worker welcome bags that were stuffed Feb. 21-Feb. 22.  (Submitted Photo Courtesy Monticello Chamber)

Amanda Fiedler, community development coordinator for the city of Becker, volunteer Aaron Othoudt and Rachel Wernsing, assistant director at the Monticello Chamber of Commerce, are pictured with some of the items placed into the 500 utility worker welcome bags that were stuffed Feb. 21-Feb. 22.
(Submitted Photo Courtesy Monticello Chamber)

“Xcel’s temporary employees have had a positive impact on our community for as long as I have been a part of the chamber,” she said.“Our job at the Monticello Chamber of Commerce is providing these employees with a warm welcome.”
Tom Hoen, Xcel Energy media relations representative, said Frederick, Maryland-based Bechtel Corp. will oversee a large group of outage subcontractors.
“They hired several subcontractors that specialize in certain construction techniques or have specific equipment that will allow us to get the work done,” Hoen said, adding the current subcontract list includes hundreds of workers who provide skills such as specialty welding, large equipment rigging and movement, large pump installation, transformer relocation and general labor. “These companies will be working with the local trades to ensure the plant upgrades are done efficiently and with high quality so we can operate reliably for another 20 years or more,” Hoen said. “This outage, like the last two, will be very work intensive.”
Suchy said outage contract employees typically work 12-hour shifts. “Many of them sleep and many go right back to work,” she said. Traditionally, some workers who come into town for the outage do not stay in hotels but rent rooms in and around Monticello and some drive back and forth from other locations.
“We notify the business community Xcel’s contract workers are coming and gather information and coupons to share with them,” Suchy said. “The chamber maintains a list of furnished room rentals available, as well as hotels and apartments. We want to make it easy for them to settle into our community.  These employees come to Monticello knowing one or two things about Monticello and we want them to remember our community and talk about it after they’ve left.”
Suchy recently solicited local businesses and asked them to provide a quick comment or two about how business picks up during one of Xcel’s plant outages.
Best Western Manager Perry Sloneker said more than half of the rooms at the Monticello location are filled for extended stays by nuclear plant temporary employees. Cornerstone Café Owner Sue Swiecichowski said she definitely sees an increase in business prior to the start of the Xcel plant outage. Her catering also increases as Xcel and its contractors conduct business meetings. Swiecichowski’s restaurant business increases and she will be opening for breakfast during the March 1 to May 31 period to accommodate the contract workers’ schedules and breakfast needs. Debbie Hrebal, owner of Deb’s Dry Cleaners in Monticello, provided Suchy a detailed example of how her business has improved. “We’ve gotten 15 new customers from Xcel,” Hrebal said in a recent email. “We get a lot of wash dry fold laundry. we also get a lot of laundered shirts. Lately we’ve had several Southern gentleman come in and like their jeans heavy starched and creased down the center. We’ve also had several people who were here three years ago for the last outage return as customers.”
Hrebal said she’s experienced a direct economic benefit from some of the 500 welcome bags that were recently distributed by the Monticello and Becker chambers. Rachel Wernsing, Monticello Chamber of Commerce & Industry assistant director, said the bags were stuffed at Becker City Hall Feb. 21-22.
“I’ve gotten three new customers from the gift bags fliers,” Hrebal said. “I have referred some of these Xcel Energy workers to different area businesses.”
Live, Laugh & Bloom owner Kelly Lillback said she’s also seeing more outage-related business. “I have seen quite a few more folks from Xcel,” she said. “I ask them how they heard about us since we aren’t in the Yellow Pages. They either saw the fliers my husband has hung up all over the plant or they “Google” us.”
Lillback said she’s had outage-related people from different states as customers. “We try to make them feel at home,” she said. “We usually end up chatting far more longer than it takes to do the order. Most of them are away from family. It’s great to see these folks here working and shopping in our community.”

Contact Managing Editor Tim Hennagir at tim.hennagir@ecm-inc.com

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