According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the U.S. solar industry experienced record growth in 2008. Academic and private-sector R&D in 2009 is focusing on thin-film photovoltaics, solar energy storage systems, hybrid lighting, and the development of more efficient and less expensive semiconductor materials. Tennessee, Florida, Texas, and Georgia have all been successful in attracting solar-technology R&D or manufacturing operations.
The economic slowdown is not keeping Hemlock Semiconductor and its parent company, Dow Corning, from building a $1 billion-plus manufacturing plant in Clarksville, Tennessee. When operational in 2012, the facility will produce polycrystalline silicon, a key component in solar panels and other energy equipment. This deal is one of the largest in Tennessee's history and has the potential to create 900 jobs within five years.
Solar power is a perfect fit for the Sunshine State. FPL Group (NextEra Energy Resources) will build a facility in DeSoto County, Florida, that provides 25 megawatts of photovoltaic solar capacity. It will produce enough electricity annually to meet the needs of over 3,000 homes, or about 20 percent of the DeSoto County's total electricity consumption. In Tallahassee, a new biofuel processing facility is being developed by Verenium Corporation to take advantage of Florida's "farm to fuel" incentives for transforming agricultural production into energy. The $300 million commercial-scale plant will be constructed on land owned by Lykes Brothers, a Florida agribusiness that cultivates energycane. When operational in 2011 the plant is expected to produce 36 million gallons of biofuel annually.
Alabama has long been known for its aerospace industry. Over 300 aerospace companies work in space and defense, aviation, and maintenance, refurbishment and overhaul (MRO). In fiscal 2008 Alabama received over $8.5 billion in Department of Defense prime contracts. Marshall Space Flight Center alone generated more than $1 billion in economic impact for Alabama last year.
One of the more recent aerospace announcements in Alabama is EADS North America, which is constructing a $600 million aircraft engineering center and future production facility for the KC-45 aerial refueling tankers in Mobile. Aerospace giant Boeing is also a prominent corporate citizen of Alabama, with expanded facilities in Decatur and Huntsville. Lockheed Martin has also undergone several expansions in Troy.
Elsewhere in the South, Alliant Techsystems (ATK) will start manufacturing composite structures for next-generation commercial aircraft at its facility in Iuka, Mississippi. The deal is expected to create 800 new jobs over eight years. Louisiana Tech University has just secured a $2.85 million U.S. Air Force's Office of Scientific Research grant to establish the Cyberspace Research Laboratory for advanced R&D in virtualization, visualization, wireless sensor networks, and micro-unmanned aerial vehicles. SPARTA Composite Products plans to invest $13.2 million to open a manufacturing facility in Suffolk, Virginia, creating 198 jobs over a five-year period. "The most significant factors that won us over to Virginia included having the highest value of incentives and a high-technology skilled and disciplined work force available through the over 18,000 retiring military personnel annually," says Paul Oppenheim, a company vice president.