CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Wacker Chemical Corp. became Tennessee's third $1 billion industry Thursday and the second giant German investment in Southeast Tennessee.
Munich, Germany-based Wacker, with $5 billion in worldwide annual sales and 15,000 employees, plans to build a facility in northern Bradley County and hire about 500 workers to manufacture hyperpure polycrystalline silicon, a base product in solar-power cells.
"The governor and I have become quite the fans of all things German," said Matt Kisber, Tennessee Economic and Community Development commissioner, as the official announcement ceremony began Thursday at Lee University.
ON THE WEB
To learn about the process of manufacturing polycrystalline silicon, visit http://tinyurl.com/b3znqb.
HELPING THE DEAL
Incentives offered to Wacker Chemical include:
* $5 million each from Bradley County and Cleveland
* $75 million in state aid for infrastructure, training and jobs tax credits
Source: Bradley County, Department of Economic and Community Development
"Our job now is to turn this success into other recruiting and other jobs," Gov. Phil Bredesen said in a post-ceremony news conference.
Volkswagen announced in July it would build a $1 billion auto assembly plant in Chattanooga. Hemlock Semiconductor, headquartered in Michigan, said in December it would build a $1.2 billion plant in Clarksville, Tenn., that also will make hyperpure polycrystalline silicon.
The Bradley County plant will be Wacker Chemical's first solar cell plant outside Germany.
"We are here to stay," declared Dr. Rudolph Staudigl, president and CEO of Wacker Chemie AG.
The three billion-dollar investments announced in Tennessee in the past eight months are the only ones of that size announced anywhere in the South in the past year.
"Tennessee's record has truly been extraordinary," said John Bradley, senior vice president of economic development for the Tennessee Valley Authority. "These projects are the products on a long-term strategy that seems to be working."
Volkswagen is the only new automobile assembly plant announced in the United States last year. Wacker and Hemlock are among the biggest makers of polysilicon in the world.
Mr. Kisber said Tennessee will provide about $75 million for infrastructure improvements and incentives for Wacker. The company also is eligible for Tennessee's job credit program, which offers tax credits up to $5,000 per job over 20 years for companies investing at least $1 billion.
Tennessee's industrial recruiting success is based partly on focusing on the future, Gov. Bredesen said.
"We all very much want to make some bets on areas we think are going to be huge in the future, and I can't believe that alternative energy is not going to be a huge area of growth," the governor said.
Dr. Ingomar Kovar, president of Wacker's American headquarters in Adrian, Mich., said the company considered Europe, Asia and the Americas for the plant. Wacker chose the United States to protect the company's intellectual property and to meet a growing American market for solar products, he said.
"We expect the market will be huge in the U.S. and the U.S. will, in 10 or 15 years, be very dominant," he said.
The company chose Bradley County for the quality of the local work force, infrastructure and local government cooperation, Dr. Kovar said.
In a news release, Wacker said costs for industrial electricity here are about half those in Germany.
Four years of secrecy
Talks to bring the Wacker plant to Bradley County began four years ago, and secrecy was paramount.
"The secrecy part was hard to adjust to," Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis said. "Government is pretty open. But they have other competitors vying for the same things. ... There's no way you can move something like this forward without that secrecy part."
"You don't know how many times we have slipped Gov. Bredesen, Sen. (Bob) Corker and Matt Kisber into the Chamber office," Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said. "Not that we were ashamed of them but because we needed to."
Gary Farlow, president and CEO of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, said Wacker is still a work in progress.
"It's a three-year process just to get the plant constructed and in production," Mr. Farlow said. "When you look at all the design and permitting, roads have to be built, utilities have to be extended, so it is a work in progress."
Walter Goode, mayor of Charleston, Tenn., had a short, friendly offer for the German industrialists locating near his town.
"If you need anything, just come see me, Walter," he said.
Staff Writer Dave Flessner contributed to this story.