CHARLESTON, Tenn.-Wacker Chemical's first 70 job openings for its planned polysilicon factory here drew about 4,000 applicants, officials said Friday.
Starting to ramp up its hiring efforts, the company aims to have nearly all its 650 workers on board when production begins in early 2014, said Ingomar Kovar, the company's North American president.
"We're already starting to hire engineers, human resource people ... corporate communication people," he said as the German manufacturer officially broke ground on the new plant that will serve the solar energy industry.
Also, when factory construction is fully in gear, the 550-acre site will swarm with about 1,000 people, officials said.
Speaking at a ceremony at the plant site where officials used a Cleveland State Community College sound system powered by solar energy, government officials termed the day historic for Bradley County.
"This started six and a half years ago," Bradley County Mayor Gary Davis said about efforts to woo the Wacker project. "During that time, it has grown. ... We've got no doubt that it will continue to grow in the future."
When the project was announced about two years ago, it was put at $1 billion and 500 jobs. But the company upped its investment and job count late last year as it eyes growth in the solar power market.
Cleveland, Tenn., Mayor Tom Rowland noted that Bradley has attracted a recent expansion by Mars and Whirlpool Corp.'s biggest-ever investment in a replacement plant, as well as an Amazon distribution center.
He cited the area's work ethic, infrastructure and taxes for drawing the key projects.
Doug Berry, vice president for economic development for the Cleveland-Bradley County Chamber of Commerce, said there's a lot of growth potential in the area.
"We have every reason to smile," he said.
Wacker officials said they see plenty of upside in their business of providing polysilicon for the solar-panel industry.
"As the global population is increasing, so is the demand for energy," said Rudolf Staudigl, chief executive officer of Wacker Chemical's parent company, Wacker Chemie.
He said the availability of solar energy is virtually unlimited.
"In the future, we shall have no choice but to rely more heavily on renewable energy source," Staudigl said.
Wacker officials said that its first 70 employees will start at $15 per hour, ramping up to $21 per hour. The initial 70 employees will be first-line supervisors, and they'll train other workers.
Kovar said the plant will be "state of the art" and have the industry's newest technology. It will be Wacker's only polysilicon production plant outside of Germany, he said.
Wacker said contractors Wright Brothers and Atwell/Anderson are helping lead site preparation at the location off Lauderdale Memorial Highway.
The site will produce about 15,000 metric tons of polysilicon per year, officials said.