For three decades, metro Toledo has lost a succession of prestigious firms through sales and mergers.
Will Wall Street darling First Solar Inc. be the firm that reverses the trend?
The solar-panel manufacturer, whose $8.6 billion market value is greater than that of any of the three northwest Ohio Fortune 500 firms, has its U.S. manufacturing hub, research facilities, and the bulk of its American workforce in Perrysburg Township's Cedar Park industrial park.
But would the firm consider transferring its small headquarters staff from Phoenix to the Toledo suburb?
Spokesman Paula Vaughnn declined to comment on the subject.
There is no evidence that a move is being considered.
But it's on the wish list of local economic development officials.
"We'd very much love to have the whole thing," said Tom Blaha, executive director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission.
Toledo's Regional Growth Partnership plans to raise the subject with company officials. "It's a jewel you definitely want to pursue," said Steve Weathers, partnership president.
The jewel gained even more luster yesterday.
After a company announcement that it has won new business and will build an additional plant in Asia, shares shot up $23.05, or 24 percent, to $119.34 in trading on the Nasdaq National Market.
Nearly 9 million shares, or four times the usual number, changed hands.
Officials said they had signed five contracts that will generate $1.3 billion in sales, all in Europe, through 2012.
Additionally, the firm's board has approved a $150 million plant in Malaysia to be completed in early 2009. The facility will have a capacity of 120 megawatts.
First Solar began construction in April on its first Asian plant in Malaysia.
Another plant recently opened in Frankfurt in the former East Germany.
In a report yesterday, analysts for Deutsche Bank gave First Solar shares a hold rating because of their lofty price, but called the firm a "best-of-breed company" with a "solid financial performance."
They predict First Solar will take in $624 million in revenues next year.
The firm specializes in a more economical solar technology known as "thin film."
It was moved to Arizona by the late John Walton, an heir to the Wal-Mart retailing fortune, but is based on technology developed by the late Toledo industrialist Harold McMaster.
As of Sept. 30, it had 634 employees, 90 percent of whom were in Perrysburg. Fewer than two dozen were at the firm's sales and marketing office and headquarters in Arizona.
First Solar's Web site lists 31 job openings in suburban Toledo, including worldwide purchasing manager, audit manager, and senior process engineer.
Still, it would likely be an uphill struggle for metro Toledo officials to persuade the firm to move its headquarters here, said Don Iannone, a site selection consultant in suburban Cleveland.
"It would have to be a very compelling reason" for First Solar to relocate from Phoenix, which has better air transportation links and some other advantages over Toledo, he said.
Relocations of corporate headquarters have declined across the nation, he added.
Although attracting the firm's corporate headquarters would be nice, a move would represent relatively few jobs compared with the number at First Solar's local design facility and manufacturing plant, said Mr. Weathers, of the Regional Growth Partnership.
The partnership's main goal, he said, is to persuade the company to keep and expand those operations, he added.
Barry Broome, a former Toledo economic development official who now heads the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, also doesn't see a move in First Solar's future.
Arizona is a center of solar power use and research because of its warm, sunny climate, he said.
But even if the firm stays there, that wouldn't be a loss for Toledo, Mr. Broome said.
Lower costs and an abundance of engineering graduates who would have gravitated to car makers before the auto industry's current problems are good reasons for First Solar to maintain and expand local operations.
He sees another bonus for northwest Ohio: The firm's rising stock price will likely make millionaires of some employees whose compensation includes company shares.
Some likely will think about using the money to strike out on their own into solar-energy businesses. And they're likely to stay close to home.
Contact Gary Pakulski at: