Solar panel manufacturing firm considers opening Gwinnett facility

ATLANTA - An Atlanta-based solar energy firm is considering opening a facility in Gwinnett County and bringing as many as 230 jobs in 2009.

Suniva makes wafer-thin solar cells from sand or quartz that convert sunlight into electricity.

Suniva Inc. has raised $50 million in venture capital to fund opening a manufacturing plant and hiring 100 workers this year. Company officials are looking at two existing facilities in Gwinnett and one in Cobb County.

Bryan Ashley, Suniva's vice president of marketing, said officials expect to make a final decision within 10 days.

"We want an existing facility because we don't want to knock down any more trees or lay anymore pavement," Ashley said.

"We have offered them incentives," said Nick Masino, vice president of economic development for the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce. "It is a very competitive package and I think we have a greater than 50/50 chance. The new location will hold their corporate headquarters and high tech solar manufacturing. You could assume if we are offering an incentive, then they are high-paying jobs."

The new plant would begin production in the fall with 100 employees and would add an additional 100 to 130 workers in 2009, Ashley said.

The company expects to earn $10 million in revenue this year and predicts that figure will jump to $100 million in 2009.

Although the states of Colorado, New Mexico, New York and Massachusetts offered Suniva some enticing incentives, as well as China and India, the company wants to keep the technology at home.

"It was funded by Georgia taxpayers over the last 20 years," Ashley said. "Most companies built plants overseas because of lucrative tax incentives from those governments. It's not just cheap wages. Our goal is to keep the jobs and technology in the U.S. and develop a green work force."

Suniva was founded in 2006 by Ajeet Rohatgi, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology's University Center for Excellence in Photovoltaics.