Looking long term: More construction, workers in Wacker Polysilicon's plans (with video)

Looking long term: More construction, workers in Wacker Polysilicon's plans (with video)

August 9th, 2012 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Dr. Konrad Bachhuber, vice president of Wacker Polysilicon in Bradley County, speaks Wednesday at Wacker Institute at Chattanooga State Community College.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

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Go to www.wacker.com/careers to apply for Wacker jobs at the Bradley County plant.

Southeast Tennessee's biggest-ever manufacturing project is about to get more crowded.

Wacker Polysilicon could have up to 3,000 builders at its Bradley County plant by early 2013, site manager Konrad Bachhuber said Wednesday.

That's up from 1,000 workers currently constructing the $1.8 billion factory slated to open in late 2013 near Charleston, Tenn., to produce polysilicon for the solar power industry.

Despite spot prices for polysilicon dropping to a decade low this summer, Bachhuber said the company isn't slowing down on the project.

"We have long-term relations with our customers," he said at the Wacker Institute at Chattanooga State Community College. "The strong players outperform the competition."

By the end of the year, the German chemical giant plans to have hired about half of its 650-person full-time workforce.

Erika Burk, Wacker's director of human resources, said it has hired 250 people so far and is aiming to bring 70 more on this year. She said the company still is looking to hire maintenance, technical and chemical operators, a fire brigade crew and engineers.

Burk said Wacker is looking to employ as many local people as possible, with only 65 Germans expected to work at the plant as it ramps up in late 2013.

Bachhuber said the existing construction is only using about 220 of 550 acres it owns in Bradley County, and there's a lot of potential for expansion and hiring in the future depending on market demand.

He said he's hopeful that at some distant point in the future, the site could hold as many as 10,000 employees.

"It's one of the fastest growing industries," he said about making polysilicon for solar uses. "Wacker is doing very well in a highly competitive environment."

Wacker reported last month that its worldwide group second quarter sales hit $1.48 billion. While that's 2 percent above its first quarter, it's nearly 8 percent below a year ago, according to the Burghausen, Germany-based business.

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization were $297.7 million in the second quarter. That's 14 percent higher than the first quarter, but down 26 percent from a year ago because of price declines, the company reported.

The company also offered a more cautious forecast for the rest of the year as it targets sales slightly below a year ago.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, solar manufacturers globally are under pressure from an oversupply in all parts of the supply chain.

Bachhuber said some of the low spot prices of polysilicon this summer were caused by weaker companies liquidating inventory.

"We have a long-term strategy," he said.