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Published: Thursday, 7/7/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Napoleon to add solar panel plant

Spanish firm plans factory in Henry Co., up to 330 jobs

BY SHEENA HARRISON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

NAPOLEON -- Isofoton, a Spanish solar panel maker, will open a $32.2 million manufacturing plant in Napoleon that is expected to create more than 300 jobs in the next few years.

The firm, based in Madrid, is investing $16.4 million in the plant and will start with 121 jobs, ramping up to 330 in three years.

The Ohio Department of Development is offering $15.8 million in grants, financing, and incentives to assist with Isofoton's first North American location.

The company plans to start operations by early next year. It will use a site formerly occupied by Plastech Engineered Products.

State development officials said Wednesday that the Napoleon plant will begin with a 50-megawatt crystalline silicon solar panel assembly line and ramp up to a 100-megawatt solar panel assembly line. It also will have a 100-megawatt line to make solar cells to be used in panels.

"We think we're at the right place at the right time and with the right product. We are very excited," said Michael Peck, chairman of Isofoton North America.

Mr. Peck said the Spanish firm will make Napoleon "the center of our operations in North America" with a manufacturing plant and later, a research and development site.

"We were very attracted to the greater Toledo metro region and we consider Napoleon a part of that region," he said.

Mr. Peck said Isofoton spent two years scouting sites and chose Henry County because of the state's alternative energy incentives, Ohio's electric power consumption, a regional workforce skilled in solar panel production, and a client base ready to buy its products.

A key selling point, he added, was a 2010 study paid for by the state of Oregon to boost its own economic development efforts.

But the study yielded a surprising result: Toledo has the overall lowest costs for operating a solar-panel plant compared with 10 other states with solar-panel production.

"That was an eye-opener. [Oregon] really did Ohio justice," Mr. Peck said.

Matt Sapara, director of operations for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, said Isofoton looked at several sites in Ohio and other states, including Jeep Parkway in Toledo, before picking Napoleon.

"The folks at Isofoton recognized the community's capacity in terms of infrastructure and workforce to be able to manufacture their products here," Mr. Sapara said.

Mr. Peck agreed.

"That you have 6,000 people in the Toledo area already working in the solar industry really was an attraction to us," he said.

Angel Luis Serrano, Isofoton chief executive officer, said the decision was influenced by Ohio's "strong reception, leadership, and well-grounded thinking."

Isofoton, which was founded in 1981, has more than 700 employees worldwide and operates in over 65 countries. The firm was chosen in October to provide panels for the Turning Point Solar array, a 49.9-megawatt development in rural eastern Ohio. American Electric Power of Columbus has agreed to buy power from the array.

Columbus-based American Municipal Power Inc. has agreed to buy up to 200 megawatts of "made in Ohio" solar panels from Isofoton in the next five years, the state said.

Mr. Peck said the contracts with those two utilities puts Isofoton on a tight timetable and it plans to begin production by early 2012.

It is close to buying its Napoleon site and already has bought equipment. The firm expects to focus on hiring soon, but he declined to give timetables.

Jobs created by Isofoton are expected to pay an average of $19 an hour, state officials said.

Ralph Lange, executive director of the Henry County Community Improvement Corp., said Isofoton jobs aid economic diversity in Napoleon and Henry County. The community lost nearly 220 jobs when the Plastech plant closed in 2006.

"Having this company here is just going to be an enormous asset," he said.

Napoleon City Manager Jon Bisher believes the city was chosen partly because of the "Fort to Port" highway -- the U.S. 24 construction project stretching from Fort Wayne, Ind., through northwest Ohio.

Though road work near Napoleon won't be done until 2012, Mr. Bisher said the road gives Isofoton easy access to solar firms in metro Toledo.

"That highway upgrade really has allowed Napoleon to tie into the solar cluster that already exists," he said.

Rick Stansley, director of strategic business development at the University of Toledo, said the university's solar program has offered support to Isofoton.

Mr. Peck said Isofoton intends to make use of UT's assistance.

Mr. Stansley noted that Isofoton will be the sole solar panel maker in northwest Ohio using crystalline silicon technology.

Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar Inc., which has its only North American manufacturing facility in Perrysburg Township, uses cadmium telluride in its product, and Toledo-based Xunlight Corp. uses amorphous silicon.

Officials from various agencies have worked since 2008 to attract Isofoton to Ohio, said Kristina Clouse, assistant director for strategic business investment with the state development department.

The state said Ohio competed against Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Georgia for Isofoton.

Contact Sheena Harrison at: sharrison@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.



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