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Published: Friday, 8/19/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

First Solar rearranges 60 jobs

Production needs caused shift at Perrysburg Twp. complex

BY SHEENA HARRISON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
About 5 percent of workers have been moved to other fabrication sites at the Perrysburg Township plant. About 5 percent of workers have been moved to other fabrication sites at the Perrysburg Township plant.
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First Solar Inc. has shuffled about 60 jobs within its Perrysburg Township manufacturing complex because of "a shift in our production processes," the solar panel manufacturer said Thursday.

First Solar of Tempe., Ariz., has more than 1,200 employees at the facility, which is First Solar's only North American manufacturing site. In a statement Thursday, the company said it "redeployed" about 5 percent of its employees at one local fabrication facility last month and assigned them to other fabrication sites at the local campus.

"No jobs were eliminated, no salaries were affected," said Matt Dills, vice president of human resources. "This is simply a shift in assignments based on our production needs."

The company declined to provide details about the employee reassignment, such as whether First Solar has slowed some of its local solar-panel production or what portion of the company's production work was affected by the decision.

First Solar, with $2.6 billion in global sales last year, makes thin-film cadmium telluride solar panels. The company, founded in Toledo, has expanded its Perrysburg Township facility at least three times in recent years and spent $1.125 million in March to buy a five-acre parcel that would allow the facility to expand again. At that time, a company spokesman said First Solar had no imminent growth plans for the plant.

Ramesh Misra, an analyst with Brigantine Advisors in Los Angeles, said First Solar ramped up its U.S. production in the last couple of years to take on an expected increase in demand for domestic solar panels. The reassignment, he said, could mean that the company is shifting its focus to research and development at the Perrysburg Township campus, which is the site for much of the firm's technology development.

Mr. Misra said First Solar could also be dedicating more manpower toward improved technology for large-scale solar projects for utility companies, on which the company began focusing last year.

First Solar is in the midst of ramping up its global solar-panel manufacturing to reach 2.7 gigawatts of production capacity in 2012, up from 1.4 gigawatts last year. The company is building manufacturing plants in Mesa, Ariz., and Vietnam to assist that growth.

Jeff Osborne, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus & Co. in New York City, said First Solar produces many of its panels at a facility in Malaysia to take advantage of lower-cost labor.

"They talked about over time making that more of [a research and development] facility," Mr. Osborne said of the suburban Toledo site. "It's definitely become a much lower percentage of their annual output as they've expanded in Asia."

First Solar shares closed at $94.77 Thursday, which was down $4.69 and the company's lowest stock price since November, 2008. Mr. Misra said solar-company stocks have fallen across the board because of economic uncertainty in Europe, one of the largest markets for solar energy.

"First Solar has actually outperformed its peers," he said.

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



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