First Solar Inc. in Perrysburg Township to add jobs, double size

8/19/2008
BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
<br>
  The second research facility will serve company operations worldwide; production capacity will increase, and three buildings will be added.<br>

  The 500,000-square-foot addition is to be completed by spring 2010.
<br>
  The addition of 134 jobs in Perrysburg Township. The new jobs are in addition to the 700 people the company now employs.
<br> The second research facility will serve company operations worldwide; production capacity will increase, and three buildings will be added.<br> The 500,000-square-foot addition is to be completed by spring 2010. <br> The addition of 134 jobs in Perrysburg Township. The new jobs are in addition to the 700 people the company now employs.

In a major boost to northwest Ohio s position as a budding center of low-cost solar-panel production, First Solar Inc. said yesterday that it will more than double the size of its operations in Perrysburg Township and add 134 jobs.

The project, the value of which wasn t disclosed, will include a second research facility to serve company operations worldwide, more production capacity, and three additional buildings on the firm s campus in Cedar Business Center in the Toledo suburb.

The 500,000-square-foot addition is to be completed by spring 2010.

The new jobs are in addition to the 700 people now employed by the company.

The site has continued to demonstrate ongoing excellent performance, Bruce Sohn, president, said in a telephone interview from company headquarters in Tempe, Ariz.

We realized we had to expand production and are choosing to do it now.

First Solar, whose sales more than tripled to $464 million in the first half of 2008, had the fastest-growing stock on Wall Street last year.

The firm, an outgrowth of a marriage of the research of Toledo glass manufacturing pioneer Harold McMaster and the wealth of retailing heir John Walton, is considered a world leader in low cost thin-film technologies.

Advocates of the technologies say they have the potential to reduce the cost of solar-produced electricity to a range competitive with fossil fuels.

Two other manufacturers have said they will begin producing panels in the Toledo area using thin-film technologies, and a fourth firm has a research operation here.

Nearly all glass panels made at First Solar are shipped to so-lar-energy farms in Europe and Asia.

It has plants in Germany and Malaysia, but the Perrysburg Township facility is its lone U.S. operation.

The company president said the expansion is motivated, in part, on the belief that U.S. demand for solar panels will increase in the years ahead.

To promote that development, a unit of First Solar builds solar-energy installations for utilities.

The company made the announcement about the Perrysburg operation shortly after stock markets closed. Company shares had closed down $8, or 3 percent, to $256.92 in trading on the Nasdaq market.

Executives said they are seeking economic development assistance from the state of Ohio, but provided no specifics.

The project will include redesign of the factory s and First Solar s initial production line and addition of a fourth line.

It will boost manufacturing capacity by a third, and have the capacity to produce 192 megawatts of solar panels annually.

When the changes are made, the plant will be identical to the firm s five other plants around the world that are in operation or under construction, executives said.

About two-thirds of the jobs that will be added will be hourly positions in manufacturing, Mr. Sohn said.

But additional research and office personnel also will be hired.

With the expansion, First Solar will have exhausted available space in Perrysburg as well as recently purchased property adjacent to its site, Mr. Sohn added.

The new buildings will be in addition to an office building being constructed on the property.

Mr. Sohn declined to discuss the nature of the work that will be done at the firm s second research facility or to say whether it will explore different thin-film technologies.

Contact Gary Pakulski at:gpakulski@theblade.comor 419-724-6082.