It's celebrating a 25th birthday. It made it on the list of the Top 25 largest privately owned companies in the nation. Now a growing Tenaska Inc. is further solidifying its presence in the hometown where the energy firm grew up.
Plans are under way to build a new four-story corporate headquarters on a 5.25-acre site in the First National Bank Business Park near 144th Street and West Dodge Road.
The 100,000-square-foot complex will contain central operations, key executives and engineers — the brain — of the Tenaska network whose power plants can provide electricity to more than 11 million homes in North America.
The tailored space will allow room for anticipated growth as well as the consolidation of a local workforce currently scattered among three different buildings.
Today, Tenaska has 300 local employees in the Miracle Hills Office Park area. The single new office building, to be ready in April 2014, will accommodate an additional 100 employees. Nationwide, the company has a total of about 720 employees.
“We consider ourselves a Nebraska company,” said Tim Kudron, senior vice president and corporate controller. “We intend to be here for a long time.”
Area officials are encouraged, as Tenaska's power plants and potential business expansion mostly are outside the state and thus loomed the question: Would the corporate headquarters someday follow the growth?
“It's always a concern when a company has the lion's share of its business activities outside the community,” said David Brown, president of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.
However, he referred to Tenaska's history of investment in philanthropic and community projects and said he was not surprised the company is staying.
Kudron said Tenaska officials never gave serious consideration to moving to a different state. Rather, he said, discussions focused on assembling an all-Nebraska team with a similar sense of community.
“We were always wanting this to be a Nebraska project,” Kudron said.
From developer to financier, local companies have been tapped to build the property that will house Tenaska's corporate offices as well as those of Tenaska Capital Management, Tenaska BioFuels and Tenaska Marketing Ventures.
Serving as joint developers and owners of the new building are Noddle Cos. and Waitt Co. RDG Planning and Design and TACKarchitects will design the exterior and interior, respectively; Lamp Rynearson & Associates and Alvine Engineering will provide engineering services; First National Bank will provide financing.
Kiewit Building Group in March is to start the construction phase that is to involve more than 300 workers.
Kyle Peterson and Barry Zoob of Colliers International of Omaha represented Tenaska as commercial brokers and began the search for a new home more than a year ago, as the expiration on current leases drew near.
Zoob said the intent early on was to find a spot near Tenaska's current base and to involve all local partners.
“That was the statement they wanted to make: Omaha is their home and they wanted Omaha companies to help them create and maintain their new home,” he said.
Plans call for Tenaska to lease the new building for a 15-year-term. Jay Noddle of Noddle Cos. said the project is estimated to cost between $20 million and $24 million.
He expects Tenaska's new site to raise awareness of a company that he said might be more familiar in other states than its own hometown.
“I don't know that they are really as well-known in Omaha because they're a global company,” Noddle said. “But some of the best and brightest we're going to have in our community are leading Tenaska.”
A look at Tenaska's roots offers insight into its bond with Omaha.
Nebraska-led native Howard Hawks (currently Tenaska chairman), Thomas Hendricks (currently executive vice president) and four other Enron Corp. officers launched the company in 1987 after deciding to stay in Omaha rather than move to Houston.
Coining the Tenaska name to combine Nebraska, Texas, tenacity and 10 (on a scale of one to 10), Hawk's team set out to use their combined experience and contacts in the private energy field.
While Enron eventually collapsed under a corporate scandal, Tenaska expanded. With 16 independent electric energy stations in the U.S. and internationally, Tenaska today is one of the country's largest independent power producers.
Based on its $9.95 billion in revenue last year, Forbes magazine ranked Tenaska 25th among the largest privately held companies in the U.S.
Kudron said the local allegiance comes also from the bulk of the workforce, which he said is locally grown.
“As we grow into the next generation of leaders in the company, the support of the local community, being a leader locally, is just as important to that next generation as it is to our founders,” Kudron said.
Locally, the privately owned Tenaska's business profile is modest, as state law requires power plants to be owned by public utilities such as OPPD. Tenaska acts as an energy broker for OPPD, MUD and other area utilities. Tenaska also invested in Nebraska's largest wind power farm near Bloomfield.
Overall, Tenaska and its partnerships have funneled more than $15 billion over the years into the continent's energy system.
Recent growth has been in solar energy, including two commercial-scale solar generation stations in California.
Because Tenaska does not offer retail services to the individual consumer, it might not be as much of a household name as local companies like Mutual of Omaha, Kudron said. He said Tenaska may perhaps be better known locally for the investment by its leaders in civic and philanthropic projects. Hawks is a booster of Creighton, Nebraska and University of Nebraska at Omaha athletics.
Kudron said the amount of square footage in the new building won't grow much from the company's current use. But designing it from scratch, he said, will allow for more efficiencies and energy-saving practices.
For example, a pair of trading floors currently in two separate buildings in the Miracle Hills Office Park near 114th Street and West Dodge Road now can be combined. The result will be a single trading floor spanning about 15,000 square feet.
Electronic feeds to the consolidated floor will provide traders “real time” pricing information and constant weather reports.
Kudron said incentives offered by the Nebraska Advantage Act was a significant factor in planning for growth. “Without it, we may have stayed where we are and lived with the inefficiencies of having multiple locations.”
Tenaska's decision, said Brown, caps a “really good year” for retaining and expanding major headquarters in the Omaha area. He noted that CSG Systems, Gavilon, Gordmans and U.S. Strategic Command all started or ended construction projects this year.
That's more than most metropolitan areas can boast about in the post-recession era, Brown said.
“Our economy keeps spinning off projects like this,” he said. “I am hopeful we can make sure we don't take these major investments for granted.”
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>> Founded in 1987
>> Headquarters in Omaha, with offices in Dallas, Denver, Pittsburgh and Calgary, Canada. About 300 of 720 employees nationally are based in Omaha.
>> Co-founders: Howard Hawks, chairman; Thomas Hendricks, executive vice president
>> Leadership team: Jerry Crouse, vice chairman and CEO of Tenaska, Inc.; Paul Smith, vice chairmen and CEO and senior managing director of Tenaska Capital Management LLC.
>> Tenaska Capital Management manages investments that include seven power plants and natural gas transportation and storage infrastructure.
>> Tenaska Marketing Ventures was recently ranked by trade journal Platt's Gas Daily as the nation's sixth-largest natural gas trading and transportation operation, managing more than nine percent of the nation's consumption last year.
>> Tenaska BioFuels, founded in 2006, helps customers find new opportunities in the biodiesel, ethanol and vegetable oil sectors. The biofuels company processed more than 30,000 transactions during 2011, a 27 percent increase over the year before.