This week General Electric announced plans to open a thin-film solar panel factory in the U.S.  Plans call for this plant to be larger than any existing U.S. solar panel manufacturing plant and  that this facility could employ upwards of 400 people.  The location of this proposed plant, however, has not been determined.

This announcement triggered two thoughts for Supply Chain Matters, and perhaps similar or different thoughts among our readers.

First, following previous commentary regarding the ongoing furor and controversy of GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt’s role as the chairperson of the Presidential Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, this announcement provides impeccable timing. No doubt, GE needed to fuel some positives in public relations, and this announcement certainly attests to GE’s commitment to add manufacturing jobs in the U.S. , even though specifics are lacking at this point. Score a point for Immelt, and the GE team.

The second thought reflects on a prior announcement in January from Evergreen Solar Inc. announcing that it would shutdown its two year old existing manufacturing facility in Massachusetts with the potential loss of 800 jobs. Evergreen attributed their decision to weak demand in the U.S. as well as competition from cheaper manufacturing capabilities in China, who benefit from government subsidies.  While Evergreen management believed it had compelling business reasons for the decision, none-the-less the company had the benefit of governmental loans and grants of $76 million, of which, $58 million was utilized. In our commentary we made note of the contrasting announcement from China’s Suntech Power Holdings who plans to double the payroll of its Goodyear Arizona plant by the end of next year. The contrast of a U.S. company who decided that it cannot profitably produce solar panels in the U.S. with a noted Chinese solar manufacturer who claims that it can with advanced process automation, was rather profound.

Candidly, we at Supply Chain Matters do not know of the details or process technologies that will make up this newly proposed GE solar panel investment in the U.S.  Perhaps readers who reside in the industry can share some further knowledge or commentary.  At face value however, we should perhaps applaud GE for this commitment, and trust that they will follow-through with more specifics in the coming months.  Prospective U.S. customers of solar panels should indeed be provided choices in vendor offerings, and having industry competitive capabilities residing within the U.S. have to be encouraged. So perhaps we should all cut GE some slack and observe what comes of this.  We trust that it will not be another failed attempt.

A final note.  Would it not be great if GE evaluates the use of the former Evergreen production facility in Massachusetts as its designated plant.  What better way for U.S. workers to prove that they indeed can be competitive, with the right processes, people and technology investments.

Bob Ferrari