Clean Tech is growing in an automotive industry-like way in the South and North Carolina is joining in the fray
By Mike Randle
There is one industry that stands out among them all in job generation in the rural South. That industry is the automotive sector. Thousands of parts suppliers and several OEMs are located in the rural regions of the Southern U.S. employing about 300,000 manufacturing workers. There is no industry like automotive when it comes to investment and job generation in Small Town South. Automotive is, in a word, the big kahuna in the small counties and towns located throughout the region.
In the early 1980s, few experts would have predicted the tremendous impact the automotive industry would have on the rural South. Yet, with Nissan, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Kia and Honda operating massive assembly plants in rural locations, there is no question that the automotive industry is the rural South’s most important player.
Today, there is another industry lurking that could have a similar positive impact on the rural South. The Clean Tech industry is growing and what it can do for rural job generation is just now being realized.
Some of the most notable projects in Clean Tech of late have located in Southern small towns. In just the last three years, Dow Hemlock, Nordex, Stion, Calisolar, KIOR, Twin Creeks, Mage Solar, Soladigm and Wacker have chosen small towns in the South for their primary manufacturing facilities. Collectively, those nine Clean Tech projects represent an investment of about $5 billion and several thousand jobs. While Clean Tech isn’t near creating the economic effect of what automotive has done in the rural South, it is well on its way.
Last summer, Semprius, Inc., a leading innovator in high concentration photovoltaic (HCPV) solar modules, received an incentives package worth $7.88 million to build a pilot production plant in rural Henderson, N.C. The incentive package could exceed $18 million if the company hits its job generation thresholds.
The incentives come on the heels of Durham, N.C.-based Semprius securing $20 million in its first tranche of Series C venture fundraising led by Siemens Venture Capital in July 2011. Semprius is using the incentives and venture funding to construct the pilot HCPV module production plant.
In a press release published last summer, N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue said about the project, "Semprius chose to bring their business to North Carolina because our investments in education and job training ensure they can find the work-ready employees they need. This company is on the cutting edge in the solar energy field and we welcome them to North Carolina, the smart grid capital of the world."
Semprius builds its HCPV modules using novel processes that combine extremely tiny solar cells with low-cost, efficient optics, and improve long-term reliability and performance. Semprius also utilizes an automated manufacturing process, leveraging standard manufacturing equipment and commodity materials, to dramatically reduce capital and labor costs.
"Demand for CPV is expected to grow exponentially over the next several years to greater than 6 gigawatts by 2020," said Joe Carr, President and CEO of Semprius, Inc.
In an article published in The Daily Dispatch, Carr said one of the key reasons rural Vance County, N.C. was chosen by the company was the county’s Tier 1 designation for state tax incentives. A Tier 1 location in North Carolina offers the highest incentive rate available for locating companies. “I would be lying if I said that incentives are not important,” Carr said. “Incentives are a major part, but it’s not the only consideration. The job force base (in rural Vance County) is reasonably ready for the high-tech work we will do. I believe Vance County brings everything we need to do that.”
The project is expected to bring 256 jobs to the rural area of the Research Triangle Park region called “Triangle North.” And the fact that Siemens is part of the deal gives the Semprius project great credibility in the wake of the Solyndra debacle.