Sunday, February 15, 2009

Great Lakes Bay Region's economic development groups forge solar partnership

by Paul Wyche The Saginaw News and Jeff Kart The Bay City Times
Thursday February 12, 2009, 8:00 AM

The Saginaw Valley's three economic development groups have forged a partnership to shine light on the region's potential as a solar energy hot spot.

The Great Lakes Bay Economic Development Partnership -- Saginaw Future Inc., Bay Future Inc. and Midland Tomorrow -- want to lure solar corporations and related ventures.

The three agencies secured $115,000 in state and federal dollars to fund a report from Cleveland-based Austin Co. and Chabin Concepts Inc. of Chico, Calif. The consultants will help the economic groups attract solar projects.

"After the report came out from Austin Co. and Chabin, it was determined that we jointly market ourselves as a region, which is no surprise," said JoAnn Crary, president of Saginaw Future.

"There is very little competitiveness, because we understand a success in one community is going to impact the whole region."

The marketing campaign includes a Web site,

"It's a fast-growing, emerging industry," said Frederick Hollister, president of Bay Future, noting a state standard signed into law last year requires utilities to get 10 percent of their power from renewables by 2015.

The Web site has demographic information about the region and locations for manufacturing facilities. A slogan, "Locate at the Source," is a reference to Hemlock Semiconductor Corp. of Thomas Township., which makes a third of the world's polycrystalline silicon, a key component in solar panels and electronic devices.

Hollister said other solar projects by Dow Corning and Dow Chemical Co. make the region an ideal spot for solar-related investments.

Officials from those companies were to discuss the "Solar Initiative" today during a kickoff meeting at Saginaw Valley State University.

"Michigan has more sun than Germany, and Germany has created a major economy based on solar," said Mary Lou Benecke, state government relations manager for Dow Corning.

The recent extension of 30 percent federal tax credits for homeowners and commercial businesses that install solar cells also has increased U.S. demand for the technology, she said.

The Austin Co. and Chabin Concepts praised the Great Lakes Bay Region for its strong solar and chemical companies, a skilled workforce and educational institutions, said Scott Walker, president of Midland Tomorrow.

Crary said the three economic development groups will attend trade shows, advertise in trade publications and make contacts with individual companies as part of the initiative.

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