LOUISVILLE — Alpen High Performance Products Inc. will enter 2024 under new leadership and be positioned to ramp up its window production by a potential of 10 times.
On Jan. 1, company owner Brad Begin will move to the role of chairman, and board member Andrew Zech will begin work as the company’s new CEO.
Those changes, coupled with the receipt of a $5.8 million matching grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, will enable the company to expand its Louisville headquarters operation to increase production there by five times and build a new production facility in Pennsylvania to add another five times, Begin told BizWest in an interview.
Zech will come to the company from Nuveen Green Capital. He’s had an interest in Alpen, a high-performance window manufacturing company, for multiple years and has served on the company’s board. Begin began to recruit Zech for the CEO role three years ago, he said.
“He’s been on our board. He’s knowledgeable about this industry space and he represents to us the building of infrastructure — the people, leadership, management — to permit further growth,” Begin said. “His skill set dovetails nicely to keep the momentum going.”
That momentum, Begin said, has involved moving into a larger production facility at the beginning of the pandemic and increased staffing in order to produce new window lines.
Describing himself as “a stoic person,” Begin said he’s “proud and excited” about the company’s new WinSert, patented, high-performance window insert that can quickly convert a building to higher efficiency without having to replace the original windows. The WinSert “brought to bear every bit of our high performance experience,” he said. That product helps the company “position itself for the next generation of best-in-class products.”
And the company caught the attention of the DOE, which issued $275 million in grants to seven energy-efficiency companies. Alpen was one of two window companies.
Alpen will use the matching grant first to add a second line at Louisville that will employ automation to ramp up production by five times, Begin said. Then, a similar investment will be made in a new production facility in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania. Together, the expansions will add about 100 workers to the company payroll; the company added about 90 jobs during the pandemic despite the challenges from a slowed economy, Begin said.
The DOE grant specifically enables increased production of the company’s ultra-thin, triple and quad-pane insulated glass units and helps meet the department’s overarching goal of strengthening domestic supply chains and accelerating clean energy manufacturing.
“This selection validates our ongoing commitment to manufacturing high performance windows and doors,” Begin said. “It also speaks to the hard work of our employees. Our company has grown exponentially over the past few years because of moments like these. That has allowed Alpen to offer better opportunities and more upward mobility for our highly diverse workforce.”
“President Biden’s Investing in America agenda is driving the manufacturing boom while preserving the communities and workforce that have powered our nation for generations,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. “With these historic investments, DOE will bring new economic opportunities and ensure these communities continue their key role in strengthening America’s national and energy security.”
Begin said the other window manufacturer that received a grant is a “vacuum insulated glass” company that manufactures most of its products in Asia. The grant will enable that company to bring production to the U.S.
“Both companies can create high performance products,” Begin said. “There’s room for both technologies. An important part of the (overall DOE) grant was the express purpose of creating high performance manufacturing channels in the United States. We compete with a shockingly high level of imported products,” Begin said.
“We’re proud to be a Colorado company based in Louisville and selling products in 48 of the 50 states,” he said.
“Our windows were installed in some of the first high performance homes and buildings in the United States, and in thousands of residential and commercial projects since then. That list includes the Empire State Building, and projects in some of the harshest climates in the world including Antarctica and the Arctic Circle. Alpen will continue to champion ideas that make our world’s buildings more comfortable, more efficient, and more focused on climate issues.”
That fits with what Zech wants to see happen at Alpen.
“I fell in love with Alpen because it brings the same passion I had to decarbonize buildings,” he said. Zech’s former company where he was chief operating officer, Nuveen, had a goal of decarbonizing buildings under the thesis that a host of market-ready technologies exist to do that work, but they face deployment challenges. “We sought to provide a market-based approach to retrofit existing commercial building stock.
“I care about climate change. Buildings are almost half the problem, and about 30% (of the carbon impact) is from heating and cooling that goes out the windows. That’s a huge piece that is solvable with technology that exists today.”
He sees the market for Alpen to be “exploding” in two dimensions. First, building owners, tenants and homeowners are increasingly interested in becoming more efficient. “That’s the market pull side,” he said. Then, there’s the “policy push” side in which federal, state and local governments are increasingly tightening building codes that demand advanced windows.
His role with Alpen will be “people, process, technology,” he said, helping get into new markets. Alpen’s goal is to “make the most advanced windows in the world in the United States,” he said, noting that now most advanced windows are made in Northern Europe.
The capabilities unlocked by the DOE grant “are staggering. It advances our goal of making the clean energy revolution a good thing for American communities and companies and jobs. The investment will create substantial job growth not just for Alpen but for other companies that supply Alpen,” he said.