Solar-powered win: First Solar chooses Lawrence Co. | Information | moultonadvertiser.com – Moulton Advertiser

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A jewel has landed in Lawrence County.

On Wednesday, Nov. 16, the county’s industrial improvement board and fee introduced approval for First Solar, Inc. to assemble a $1.1 billion facility in Mallard-Fox West Industrial Park. The announcement follows a number of months of vying to be the home of First Solar’s fourth American manufacturing plant. 

During an emotional announcement, IDB President Tabitha Pace struggled when discussing the importance of the settlement.

“This project – this company – will have a tremendous impact on our economy and our region,” Pace mentioned. “Everyone on our team, the Savills team, the First Solar team, all have worked diligently for this project – and I said I wasn’t going to cry.” 

After gathering herself, Pace continued, “I will forever be grateful to those teams.”

Pace choked up once more whereas thanking her IDB board members. 

“Thank you for always being professional and offering guidance and support,” mentioned Pace. “I never have to worry about you supporting us in these efforts, and I appreciate that very much.” 

Commission Chairman Bobby Burch mirrored on the county’s previous hardships; particularly, when the International Paper plant closed in 2014. The shutdown affected 1,100 jobs. 

“We’ve seen cloudy days before,” mentioned Burch. “Despite those cloudy days, God’s shining on Lawrence County – that’s all I can say.” 

Upon completion, the brand new facility will make use of 715 employees at $26.77/hr. The constructing will embody over two million square-feet, in keeping with Pace. It will stretch 60 acres of land and overlap the southwestern boundary of the economic park. Construction is estimated to be accomplished by late December 2025 and can start by June 23, 2023; nevertheless, First Solar might break floor previous to then.

“They want to start moving dirt in December,” mentioned Pace. “They don’t technically have to until June, but they’re out there ready to go.”

First Solar employed Savills, a world consulting agency, to scout websites for the undertaking. The firm thought of choices in a number of states earlier than selecting Lawrence County. While different areas might supply extra financially, Pace and her group impressed Savills executives.

“We looked at over 100 sites nationwide,” mentioned Ann Marie Collins, Executive VP of Savills consulting agency. “You were chosen because of all [your] hard work and the way your community pulled together. Believe it or not, we look at those things.” 

“Honestly, I think a lot of it went back to ‘relationship,’” mentioned Pace. “Our competition – we were far off from them [financially]… But they saw how our team worked and how we wanted to work with them.”

“You want to go where you’re welcome,” mentioned Burch. “And I think they saw that they were welcome.” 

The county has competed in a number of industrial alternatives throughout Pace’s time as president. On industrial excursions, company delegations skilled the very best Lawrence County might supply. Yet the county typically failed the ultimate reduce.

“We’ve come in second place so many times on projects as big as this,” mentioned Pace. 

Despite the close to misses, undertaking managers inspired Pace to maintain swinging.

“They always said, ‘You’re doing everything right. There’s nothing you could’ve done differently,’” mentioned Pace. “‘It’s coming. Your time is coming.’ And they were right; it did finally come.” 

Pace’s arduous work lastly paid off; nevertheless, few would’ve guessed that Lawrence County’s subsequent huge undertaking would contain solar panels. 

Solar power isn’t broadly utilized in Alabama. According to a report from House Method, solar accounts for 0.3 % of the state’s electrical energy. Burch acknowledged the irony of a solar manufacturing plant within the Heart of Dixie. 

“Here we are, the belt buckle of the Republicans,” mentioned Burch, “and yet we’re contributing to lessen our carbon footprint.”

The new facility is a giant win for the county’s industrial improvement. It continues a growth of business manufacturing in north Alabama: Toyota-Mazda, Amazon, Buffalo Rock, and Facebook amenities are among the many websites underneath development or not too long ago opened in surrounding areas. 

While such amenities present wanted financial advantages, the large websites may be eyesores on the Alabama panorama. Pace believes trade can exist and develop within the county with out disturbing its magnificence.   

“That’s another reason why we have those [industrial] parks,” mentioned Pace. “To be able to have that area as an industrial area and not the whole county.

“I’ve lived here all my life,” Pace continued. “I don’t want to be a “Madison.” That’s why I dwell right here; that’s why I adore it right here.” 

A frightening quantity of labor stays earlier than the undertaking’s completion. Grants should be obtained, and infrastructure surrounding the positioning wants enchancment. But for one night time, these concerned celebrated what the announcement meant for the county. Soon, they’ll get again to constructing the long run.

“Now the real work starts. We’ve all been saying we can’t wait to get to this point, but we all know that it doesn’t stop here,” mentioned Pace. “I know First Solar is ready to begin their journey in the great state of Alabama, and we’re anxious to show them some true Southern hospitality.”

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