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Published: Saturday, 9/8/2012

Solar firm targets steady growth

Job fair for veterans seeks staff for plant under way in Napoleon

BY KRIS TURNER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

NAPOLEON — The solar-panel machinery inside Isofoton USA’s sprawling Napoleon facility is spaced out like giant puzzle pieces.

Machines are arranged in a line across the length of the former warehouse. Some of the equipment is ready to be strung together, while other pieces are positioned for the delivery of more machinery.

A few of the solar-panel manufacturer’s 12 employees tended to the equipment Friday, getting things ready for the company’s December ramp-up deadline.

“It’s like solar world around here,” said Michael Peck, chairman of Isofoton USA, who was in Napoleon on Friday for a veterans job fair being held by the company.

If all goes according to Isofoton’s North American business plan, Napoleon could be home to a force within the U.S. solar industry and more than 300 new jobs.

Isofoton North America is a division of Isofoton, a global company that specializes in solar-power products. It is headquartered in Spain and has a presence in 60 countries.

The $31 million project in Napoleon is being financed with $15 million in state loans and about $4 million in private funding. The rest should be produced by the company once the plant — 40 miles southwest of Toledo — is up and running.

Mr. Peck said Isofoton North America is targeting small contracts before it attempts to pull off a big one — it’s all about building a strong foundation and a good reputation.

Evidence of “start small” is on display in Napoleon, which has a solar-panel field that contains 17,160 monocrystalline panels manufactured by Isofoton in Europe. The field was constructed near the company’s new plant.

That 4.2 megawatts produced there help power Napoleon, thanks to a partnership with American Municipal Power. Similar agreements could be struck across the state because of the model established in Napoleon, Mr. Peck said.

The field has been operational about two weeks and is an example of the company’s hopes as well as a source of power. “We always had the idea of working inside a [solar] cluster,” Mr. Peck said of northwest Ohio.

Jon Bisher, Napoleon’s city manager, said the company’s commitment to the community is paramount. Isofoton is building relationships that will help it weather the troubles in the solar industry, he said.

Part of Isofoton’s plan to ramp up in December is contingent on the progress of the Turning Point Solar Project, which will use 250,000 of the company’s solar panels and produce 50 megawatts of power. The project is in Noble County, and construction could start by summer 2013, said Dave Celona, a spokesman for Turning Point.

Isofoton hopes to have at least 120 employees in Napoleon by then. If the Turning Point project is a success, it could lead to a major investment from Samsung, Mr. Peck said. The investment would allow Isofoton to build a second solar-panel facility in Napoleon and pave the way for solar cell production.

“The success of this [solar] cluster results in jobs,” Mr. Peck said.

The company has started looking for employees, and Friday’s job fair was one of the first steps in that process. Mr. Peck said he’d like to hire as many veterans as possible because it is the company’s way of giving back.

Jesse Morris, 55, of Toledo was one of the applicants. He has been unemployed about a year since being laid off from a corporate sales job. He served in the U.S. Air Force, where he learned the ins and outs of supply management, which led to his career in corporate sales. He would like to do something similar at Isofoton.

“Hopefully I’ll get the chance to use the skills I learned in the military,” he said.

Contact Kris Turner at:

kturner@theblade.com or

419-724-6103.



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