Tipton — A second production line is almost installed in Colorado and a third will go in before a solar manufacturer moves into Tipton County, company and county officials said last week.
It has been just more than a year since President Barack Obama announced Abound Solar Inc. was using a $400 million federal loan guarantee to expand into Tipton County and create more than 800 jobs in the area.
Abound, which produces thin-film photovoltaic modules, in December closed on its government-backed loan from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The company has used the money, combined with private investments, to install a second line at its existing factory in Longmont, Colo. A third will go in in Longmont, then attention will turn to Tipton County.
Russell Kanjorski, vice president of marketing for Abound, said the company remains on track with its original plans to begin installing production equipment in late 2012 or early 2013.
“That doesn’t mean things aren’t happening in Tipton,” Kanjorski said.
Abound took control of the building when it received its loan in December and signed a long-term lease with a real estate developer in Colorado.
Contractors have visited the facility to assess what repairs and construction remains.
The plant sprawls over roughly 800,000 square feet at the northeast corner of U.S. 31 and Ind. 28. No one has occupied it since 2008, when previous owners Chrysler Corp. and Getrag Transmission backed out of the construction of an almost finished transmission factory.
Tipton County Commissioner Jane Harper said a lack of climate control in the incomplete plant caused patches of mold on walls, and a storm earlier this year caused minor damage. Crews have made those repairs and also cleared remaining clutter that Chrysler and Getrag left when they abandoned the building.
Abound could begin looking as early as late 2011 or early 2012 to hire managers to oversee the Tipton start-up, Kanjorski said. Most positions will open when the factory starts operating in 2013. Production will ramp up, so Abound will gradually create its projected 800 to 1,000 jobs, he said.
Some Prep Work Begins
Indiana and Tipton County officials have been working with Abound to set up training programs for the mass hiring that should begin in the next few years.
The Indiana Economic Development Corp. approved up to $11.85 million in performance-based tax credits for the jobs Abound says it will create. The company can also receive up to $250,000 in grants to pay for training.
As part of the incentive package, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development is also offering help with training.
Valerie Kroeger, a spokeswoman for Workforce Development, said the department has offered to cover 50 percent of employees’ wages and salaries while they undergo training.
Workforce Development has also offered to help Abound with human resources, such as recruiting and hiring, Kroeger said.
There have also been a few businesses that have shown interest in moving to the area near the Abound plant, Harper said, but they have all been “nibbles.”
“Future investors are wary because they don’t want to put a bunch of money into something until they see the investors walking in the door,” she said.
The area north of the factory is zoned to allow both industrial and commercial development.
Most interest has been from retailers, Harper said.
From Indiana to India
The company that began in 2007 out of a university lab in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains has reached to Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and India.
Abound announced in January it had received a certification in the U.K. that allows anyone who buys the company’s solar panel modules to receive feed-in tariffs. The tariffs reimburse panel owners if their solar energy systems create more electricity than the buildings they power consume.
Another announcement of a global business deal came in March, when Abound signed a long-term sales agreement with India-based Solarsis Inc. The company designs, installs and manages projects for solar energy systems.
Abound entered agreements in April with two more international companies, solar system integrator DW Europe and solar designer and manufacturer Thesan, both of which are based in Italy.
Kanjorski, Abound’s vice president of marketing, said the global market has been critical, but the U.S. is opening up.
A GTM Research report in June said the American market for photovoltaics increased 66 percent during the first quarter of 2011 compared to the same three months of 2010. The industry is poised to double its market share by the end of the year, according to the report.
It is a market in which four-year-old Abound is racing against much larger competitors.
First Solar Inc., based in Arizona, is the industry dominator against which Abound’s executives have repeatedly said they would like to be an equal competitor.
The solar companies are being joined by global conglomerate General Electric, which announced earlier this year it had acquired solar panel manufacturer PrimeStar Solar Inc.
Kanjorski said the competition will be a good thing.
“We’re quite happy to hear that GE made that investment,” he said. “... It speaks very highly that one of the largest companies in the world has joined.”
“As far as competing with them,” he continued, “what we have to do is execute and drive our costs down. And that will determine who the winners and losers are.”
• Daniel Human is the Kokomo Tribune business reporter. He can be reached at 765-454-8570 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.