Solar cell plant in Henderson to employ 250

Posted July 19, 2011 10:40 a.m. EDT
Updated July 19, 2011 6:48 p.m. EDT

— A Durham semiconductor company plans to build a solar cell plant in Vance County that will employ more than 250 people within five years, officials said Tuesday.

Semprius will invest $89.7 million in the plant and could get up to $18.3 million in state and local grants if it meets investment and hiring targets.

The company has patented a manufacturing process in which semiconductors are printed on glass, plastic or other materials for use in solar panels, liquid-crystal displays, advanced disk drivers and other devices. The CIA and German industrial giant Siemens are among its investors.

"These are skill jobs that provide not only great wages but also training in a high-tech environment," Semprius President and Chief Executive Joe Carr said.

Semprius' high-concentration photovoltaic solar modules can focus the sun's energy at more than 1,100 times onto tiny solar cells, which officials said lowers costs and increases efficiency for solar panel makers.

The 256 jobs at the plant will have an average salary of $45,565, plus benefits. The average salary in Vance County is $30,004.

"These aren't just any jobs," Gov. Beverly Perdue said. "They're making the technology here – They're going to do that in Vance County. Who would have ever thunk it, in North Carolina – that will literally power the world of the future."

The news was greeted in enthusiasm in Vance County, which has one of the state's highest unemployment rates at 13.3 percent.

"The economy is very poor here now. We have very little, if any, industry to speak of here," said David Thomas, a third-generation resident of Henderson. "Companies starting up will certainly have opportunity to help us."

Semprius qualified for a $600,000 grant from the One North Carolina Fund, which provides cash grants to attract business projects to the state. No money is paid upfront, and companies must meet job and investment targets to obtain the funds.

The state Economic Investment Committee also voted Tuesday to award a Job Development Investment Grant to Semprius. Under the JDIG, the company can receive 61 percent of the state withholding taxes from the new jobs for each of the 11 years in which it meets annual performance targets, which could yield up to $3 million for the company.

Community college training, state sales tax exemptions and local incentives add another $12 million to the total, and the North Carolina Rural Center dedicated its largest grant to date for a single project, $550,000, to the plant.

Golden LEAF, the Rocky Mount-based foundation that funds rural development projects with money North Carolina receives from the national settlement with cigarette makers, also will provide $1.25 million for the Semprius plant.