From an article by Eric Decker, Alysha Schertz, and others on

Steve Ostrenga is bringing jobs to Milwaukee at a new Helios USA plant, which will manufacture solar panels. . . .

Milwaukee is known for manufacturing. Companies such as Harley-Davidson, A.O. Smith, Falk, Rockwell Automation and many breweries played large roles in the city’s development.

Manufacturing will drive the city’s future. However, what Milwaukee’s manufacturers produce is changing.

Helios USA LLC, a startup solar panel manufacturer that is developing a 40,000-square-foot plant in the city’s Menomonee Valley, is new to the city. So are its products.

But when the company begins shipping its solar panels throughout the U.S. in early 2011, it will become another of the city’s nationally known manufacturers, tapping into the city’s heritage of supplying the world with parts and components it needs.

“This is a manufacturing center – we put the plant here because of the strong heritage in energy,” said Steve Ostrenga, chief executive officer of Helios. “We’ve got ZBB and Johnson Controls and a lot of other firms that are in the (energy) industry already. And manufacturing is the backbone of this (community) already.”

Helios will hire production workers as early as September as it installs automated manufacturing and assembly equipment. The company hopes to begin full production by January and will have 20 to 40 employees at that time, Ostrenga said.

When it begins production, Helios will use about 15,000 square feet of the total space. The company anticipates several phases of expansion over the next several years. By the time it uses all of the 40,000 square feet of space for production, it will have about 100 employees.

Helios’ production system will be highly automated, using equipment that most workers in the area will not be familiar with, which is why the company will begin hiring this fall, Ostrenga said.

“We’re spending a lot of money on training because this process is unique,” he said. “The solar industry is new.”