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Exploding Solar Energy Business Seen Warming Region With Thousands of Jobs

Dow Corning, Chamber Credit Legislators, State Incentives With Growth Plans

October 25, 2008       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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Dow Corning Corporation opened this Solar Solutions Application Center recently in Freeland.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Hear the entire text of Marie Eckstein's speech to the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, and the awards ceremony and other comments on the local economy at "Bay Area On The Go" video Oct. 22, 2008.)

Thousands of new jobs soon may cause the local economy to rise like the sun, according to Marie N. Eckstein, Dow Corning Corp. vice president and manager of advanced technologies.

Ms. Eckstein told the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce recently the tri-county region of Bay-Midland-Saginaw is on the verge of becoming a world center of solar technology that is expected to grow at a 30-40 percent rate over the next decade.

And, the area also is expected to become a market for solar technology to heat homes and businesses.

Michigan, not usually considered a sunny state, has more sun than Germany, a country that leads the world in solar energy use, she said before a crowd of about 400 at the Bay Area On The Go extravaganza at the DoubleTree Hotel - Bay City Riverfront.

She noted the 45th parallel runs through the state near Elk Rapids and also through sunny southern Spain.

"The sun is here and we have the opportunity to create jobs and grow companies involved in manufacturing and installation of solar panels," the Dow Corning official said.

The tri-county region remains in the running for a fourth billion dollar expansion of solar manufacturing facilities now under consideration by the Dow Corning board, she added.

Legislators from both parties were credited with creating a "regional caucus" gaining passage of a $350 million/12 year package of tax incentives aimed at convincing the firm to continue expanding its Hemlock Semiconductor (HSC) Plant here, she said, noting the Michigan is now on the short list and commenting:

"Before the state legislators came together Michigan was not even on the list -- the state was off the radar screen."

Continued regional cooperation is vital to Dow Corning, she said, noting the firm's headquarters is in Bay County, specialty manufacturing in Midland County and HSC in Saginaw County.

Ms. Eckstein called the region "uniquely blessed" to have two significant major investment projects here despite the uncertain national and world economies. The other project is the Consumers Energy $2.3 billion expansion of the Karn-Weadock plant at the mouth of the Saginaw River. "We in Michigan are one of the bright spots," she said.

The Vision Tri-County regional economic development group recently hired its first fulltime employee to coordinate continued cooperation, said Mike Seward, president of the Bay Area Chamber.

Mr. Seward recognized General Motors Corp. on its 100th anniversary, recalling the history of the local PowerTrain plant that dates to a pipe company in 1869 and National Bicycle Company prior to its acquisition by GM's founder William Durant in 1916. Tim Quinn, GM representative, noted recent GM quality awards and 30 miles per gallon fuel efficiency leadership as well as proposed expansion of the local plant to make parts for the hybrid Chevrolet Volt.

The Chamber made its annual On The Go awards to:

  • Bay Cast, Inc., for installation of new stainless steel casting equipment;

  • Caretel Inns of the Tri-Cities, for its $15 million, 68,364 square foot post hospitalization skilled nursing facility on 90 acres of Frankenlust Township;

  • Emcor, Inc., for several plant expansions and a new contract with a Canadian firm for the world's largest precision ball screws;

  • Great Lakes Center Foundation for its $6.8 million restoration of the Pere Marquette Depot;

  • Thumb National Bank for a $1.5 million renovation of the former main branch of the Bay County Library System on Center Avenue; and

  • Williams Cheese for $1.1 million improvements retaining 60-75 jobs in Linwood.

    "We are an island of opportunity in a rather pessimistic time," said Chamber spokesman Eric Jylha.

    Event sponsors were The Dow Chemical Company, Gregory Construction and Thumb National Bank & Trust in conjunction with WNEM, TV-5 and DoubleTree Hotel in Bay City.###

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    Dave Rogers

    Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
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