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Published: Tuesday, 1/17/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Solar-panel company lays off 40 employees

BY KRIS TURNER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Willard & Kelsey Solar Group LLC laid off about 40 people indefinitely at the beginning of January until changes to its production line are completed, a company official said Monday.

Michael Cicak, the company's chief executive officer and chairman of the board, would not say when the changes would be completed or when the laid-off employees could return to work.

"We have some technical people in here improving the efficiency of the assembly line," Mr. Cicak said, adding that the Perrysburg-based facility still has about 30 employees.

He said Willard & Kelsey has a little more than 80 employees when it's fully functional.

The start-up company has been plagued by a series of production and staffing delays since it was formed in 2008. It has received millions of dollars in government loans and tax breaks and has been toured by high-profile officials such as Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, and former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.

Mr. Cicak said last week that the facility was to reopen Monday after a period of adjusting its inventory. A voice mail message on the company's main phone line said the same thing.

Only 15 cars were in the parking lot at 1:30 p.m. Monday. The office was devoid of activity, and the rows of desks were empty.

A tour of the production line and the changes being made to it were not made available to The Blade.

Mr. Cicak said the assembly line changes will improve the output of the cadmium telluride thin-film solar panels produced at Willard & Kelsey. The value of those panels, which usually are less expensive than other models, will increase if they can produce more energy, he added.

Ideally, the solar panels will increase from a 10 percent output to about 15 percent, Mr. Cicak said.

"We will be the lowest-cost producer of solar panels in the world," he said.

The cost of changing the assembly line was not released. Willard & Kelsey also does not release its quarterly earnings or its profit margin because it's a privately held company, Mr. Cicak said.

As of early 2011, the company had received a $5 million research and development loan from the Ohio Department of Development, a $10 million loan from the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority, a $3.3 million job creation tax credit, and a $701,000 grant to provide training for 50 current and 250 new workers.

Attempts to reach state officials were unsuccessful because Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.

Mr. Cicak previously has made sweeping claims for how many people the 262,000-square-foot plant along State Rt. 25 could employ. In February, 2011, the company said it planned to have 250 employees by the end of 2011. At the same time, Mr. Cicak said the company could produce 600 to 700 jobs in the next to two years and up to 4,000 in five or six years.

On Monday, he said the company was in the research stage of developing a powerful solar panel that would put it ahead of its competitors.

"We're going to be way ahead of the world," he said.

Contact Kris Turner at: kturner@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.



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