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Austin looks set to bring in solar energy firm

Friday, December 3, 2010 by Michael Kanin

The City of Austin appears poised to award an economic development grant to the SunPower Corporation of Richmond, Calif. In return for the funds, a figure just north of $900,000, the solar energy company will construct an Austin operations center.

With the agreement, SunPower will be required to bring with it 450 jobs over four years. Eighty percent of those will be Austin hires.

At a special called meeting yesterday, the director of Austin’s Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services division, Kevin Johns, told City Council that SunPower is a good fit for the city’s economic development program. He pointed out that the firm is in a “target industry” for the city and is “an American company with an international presence,” which, he added, “is clearly beneficial to Austin.”

According to Johns, SunPower will perform $7.5 million in leasehold improvements and bring $2.5 million worth of business personal property. By using an analytical tool that his department uses to assess such agreements, Johns’ department has calculated that, all told, the city will net $800,000 from the deal.

Council Member Sheryl Cole welcomed the agreement. “I would just like to remind the Council and the city that a few weeks ago we held a job fair at the Millennium Center,” she said. “I was absolutely shocked … at the crowd that was there and the number of people that had been waiting several hours to have an interview with the City of Austin, the State of Texas, and a few other governmental entities.


“We are very fortunate — I’ll go so far as to say blessed — to have companies feel willing to come to Austin, comply with our environmental rules, with our (minority- and women-owned business) standards, and provide jobs.”


Cole was so eager to see the deal completed, she moved for its approval. Her action, however, was a bit premature, as the Council has yet to conduct a public hearing on the matter. That’s set for this coming Thursday. A vote will come at its conclusion.

According to Johns, the SunPower positions will come with an annual average salary of $70,000. Senior Vice President Doug Richards told In Fact Daily that many of those would be mid-level positions.

“It’s an operations center,” he said. “We don’t plan to have this be where the executives are moving to — it’s going to be an operations center to support our business in the U.S. and across the globe.”


Richards also noted that SunPower’s pay and benefits practices are “very competitive in the industry.” He added that he felt that the firm would be “very strong” in terms of providing Austinites with a living wage.

According to its Web site, SunPower is “the global leader in developing high-efficiency solar solutions for homes, businesses, commercial buildings and utilities.” It is the largest provider of such services in the United States and the third largest in the world.

Johns told In Fact Daily that the firm is exactly the sort of company that Austin should be looking to recruit. He said that the firm would “anchor” the city’s efforts in attracting clean energy business to Austin. He added that Austin would try and bring similar companies to the city.

“That’s our objective,” he said. “But when you look at recruiting the third largest solar energy group in the world, there’s only so many of them out there.”


Still, Johns said that his office would “still like to (bring in) at least one more in the next couple of years.” They would also, he added, be trying to “grow” local clean-energy firms.

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