Wacker Chemical Corp. Manager of Corporate Communications William Toth said Tuesday the company plans no layoffs at its Charleston plant.
“Wacker announced this past October to reschedule start of operations at our Charleston plant to mid-2015. We are aligning our staffing to correspond with the startup of production and we are not planning any layoffs due to the rescheduled timing,” he said.
Cleveland/Bradley Economic Development Council Chair Ross Tarver said he, Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce CEO Gary Farlow and Doug Berry, Chamber of Commerce vice president for Economic Development, recently had lunch with Dr. Ingomar Kovar, CEO of Wacker Chemical Corporation North America.
“This project is still moving forward with the same speed they recently announced, so I don’t think we’re having the same issues as Hemlock,” Tarver said.
Hemlock Semiconductor is laying off three-fourths of its employees in Clarksville shortly before the planned start of production at its new $1.2 billion plant, according to a story by The Leaf-Chronicle. According to the Clarksville newspaper, officials of the Michigan-based company met with The Leaf-Chronicle on Monday and said the company is laying off 300 of its 400 employees in Clarksville and 100 workers at its Michigan plant.
Hemlock announced in 2008 its plans to build the facility in Clarksville. Officials at the plant near the Kentucky border said last fall they had plans to begin production of polycrystalline silicon in 2013.
According to the Leaf-Chronicle report, Hemlock President Andrew Tometich said the plant will be utilized, but added it’s not known whether it will open for business at any time in 2013.
Wacker Chemie A.G. announced plans Feb. 25, 2009, that it intended to build a polysilicon plant west of Charleston near Olin Chemical Corp., which will be a supplier of chlorine used in the purification process of raw silicone.
The initial investment grew from $685 million to $1 billion, then from $1.2 billion to a current estimate of $1.8 billion. Construction work officially began April 8, 2011.
Berry said the company has a lot of equipment coming in and the distillation towers are going up.
“There are two up and a third one going up, so they’re progressing,” Berry said. “Essentially, the company has indicated that with the exception of the slowdown, this project is the same project it announced with the additional expansion this time last year.”
Austin Peay State University developed a chemical engineering associate degree program to support the plant and state government put $6.4 million into construction of a campus building with intricate equipment needed to educate students taking the degree program. Training included a combination of classroom study and hands-on experience at Hemlock's plant in Hemlock, Mich., according to the Clarksville newspaper.
Chattanooga State Community College developed a similar program on its campus in the old Olan Mills building on Amnicola Highway. Wacker invested $3.25 million in the $5 million Wacker Institute. The state of Tennessee paid $13.7 million to buy and make infrastructure improvements. The training facility opened its doors Feb. 8, 2012.
Hemlock officials told the newspaper the layoffs were in response to a significant oversupply of polysilicon and the threat of protective tariffs on its product sold into China.
Toth said Wacker continues to focus on the worldwide photovoltaics market, which includes the United States and Americas region.
"There's no doubt there's huge disappointment in the state in the fact that we were hoping for big employment numbers there," Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday to The Leaf-Chronicle. "The only consoling factor there is they did make the capital investment they said they would make in the state."
In October, Wacker Chemie announced it was delaying completion of its $1.5 billion Bradley County plant by 18 months because of high inventory and weak demand pushing down prices for silicon wafers.
Company officials had earlier said the plant could be complete in 2013. The company says it now plans to start production at the new plant by mid-2015.
"Both Wacker and Hemlock would say this book isn't finished yet," Haslam said. "The state decided three or four years ago to make a big investment to be a leader in the production in polysilicon, and that market has gotten saturated. We're sitting where we are today where two folks have made really big investments in the state, but the employment and growth hasn't happened."
Berry said there has been an oversupply in the world market, and the projected tariffs on its products in China is an indicator of the differences in the Hemlock project and Wacker.
“Hemlock is a U.S.-based company that has an existing market share in the United States. That facility was intended to disperse a lot of polysilicon to markets such as China and emerging markets,” Berry said. “Wacker, on the other hand, refers to this as a footprint for North America. What you have is a broader global perspective in the Hemlock operational perspective and Wacker saying they are establishing themselves for the growing and emerging U.S. market.”
Farlow said the price has decreased, but the demand has increased.