Tag Archives: Rioglass

Funding Startup Companies Jumpstart Economy

GPEC boosts state’s economy by attracting more foreign direct investment

The Greater Phoenix Economic Council’s California 50 program — which aimed to fly 50 Golden State CEOs to Phoenix for an opportunity to tour and explore the region’s business-friendly environment — proved to be so popular that they expanded it to 100 a week after its launch.

But it may be GPEC’s pitch to CEOs even farther away that makes the biggest impact on Arizona’s economy.

“GPEC is focused on a specific region in China, defined by Shanghai and 10 other cities connected by high-speed rail,” says Ron Butler, managing partner at Ernst & Young in Phoenix and co-chair of GPEC’s International Leadership Council. “This region (known as the ‘Z Corridor’) features China’s largest concentration of industries, including solar, medical device, IT, pharmaceuticals, high-tech manufacturing and chemicals. GPEC has made tremendous strides over the past several years in China, particularly with solar and renewable energy companies. Now, the organization is looking to leverage those relationships and expand into other, capital-intensive industries.”

GPEC’s effort is significant, Butler says, because export industries and foreign direct investment (FDI) drive economic growth, create wealth within the region, and tend to be capital-intensive operations that pay higher-than-average wages. Currently, FDI accounts for 73,000 jobs in Arizona and the state saw a 235 percent increase in FDI from 2005-2010, from just over $270 million to more than $904 million.

“By focusing on the Z corridor, a zone known for its solar, high-tech, bio-medical, and chemical industries, GPEC has identified a region that can appreciate what Arizona and — more importantly Arizona workers — can do well,” says Ilya A. Iussa, assistant professor of law at Phoenix School of Law.

But it’s not just investment from China that is giving Arizona an economic boost within the solar and renewable energy industries. In addition to China’s Suntech, the region has seen investments from Spain’s Rioglass and Abengoa, England’s Faist, Germany’s Solon, France’s Saint-Gobain, and Canada’s Cosma International.

“GPEC smartly targets the regions and countries that represent significant growth opportunities, like Canada, China and Western Europe, and works these markets with effective marketing and business development strategies,” Butler says. “Now, with a more concentrated effort underway in China and successful positioning as both a leader in the U.S. solar market and an on-the-record supporter of expanded free trade with China, the Greater Phoenix region is poised for amplified growth in FDI, particularly from China.”

Despite its success, experts says Arizona still has some work to do.

“Our neighboring states and biggest competitors far outrank us in national FDI and export-trade rankings,” Butler says. “California is first for FDI and second for exports, while Texas is second for FDI and first for exports. As such, we must continue evaluating our market for additional FDI and export industry opportunities, and look for ways to increase our competitiveness in these areas.”

Lawmakers have identified one area that needs to be addressed to gain a competitive edge on other states.

“One of the first things we should do is focus on developing a highly educated workforce that will attract companies and businesses looking to move their headquarters,” says Rep. Matt Salmon, R-5. “In addition, it is equally important for us to create a pro-business environment and that comes by reducing harmful regulations that hamper economic growth. Both would increase Arizona’s role in the global economy.”

In order to be increase its global presence and become more competitive with neighboring states like California and Texas, Butler says Arizona must increase the number of export industries operating in the state.

“We can increase our competitiveness for these types of investments,” he says, “with a targeted economic development program for export industries, similar to the Renewable Energy Tax Incentive Program (SB1403), which has brought significant investments to the region and the Qualified Facilities Tax Credit (HB2815), which expanded the successful renewable energy program to include qualified, export-based investments.”

Solar Companies - AZRE Magazine March/April 2011

The Fight To Lure Solar Companies To The Valley Is Fierce

The fight to lure solar energy companies to Arizona will be fierce in 2011, as states become more competitive in their efforts to land solar companies that are themselves battling for funding in a stagnant capital market.

“(This year) will be more competitive than 2010 because the states are feeling more pressure and the idea that we’ll emerge out of this recession soon is just falling out of people’s heads,” says Barry Broome, president of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, a major player in the efforts to bring solar and renewable energy companies to the Valley.

At least 10 renewable energy companies have located or announced plans to locate in Arizona since the state Legislature passed a tax-incentive program in 2009, Broome says. The most notable players are Chinese giant Suntech Power Holdings Co., the leading solar manufacturer in the world, and Power-One, which makes solar and wind inverter products.

Their arrival not only burnishes Arizona’s reputation as a potential leader in the effort to harness renewable energy, but also creates a burgeoning supply chain for solar energy manufacturers.

For example, United Kingdom-based FAIST GreenTek plans to open its first U.S. plant, a 56,000 SF facility in Phoenix, to provide metal steel containers for Power-One’s inverter boxes. Additionally, Spanish glass manufacturer Rioglass located to Arizona to provide materials for Abengoa’s Solana plant near Gila Bend, which is expected to be the largest concentrating solar energy power plant in the world.

“The tentacles that are caused by these companies will grow long over time,” says Eran Mahrer, director of renewable energy for Arizona Public Service, which will purchase the electricity generated at the Gila Bend site.

GPEC currently is working to lure two solar companies to the Valley, Broome says, adding, “I’m not saying we won’t see 10 companies again, but it’s much tougher. The industry is maturing and the capital markets haven’t recovered.”

He believes the market will see a roll up, or a decline in smaller, newer companies and will settle on fewer, major players.

The impact of solar companies on the commercial real estate market is significant. Solar-related companies gave a shot in the arm to Arizona’s persistently high industrial vacancy rates, says Pete Wentis, an industrial broker with CB Richard Ellis.

The second quarter of 2010 saw positive absorption in the industrial sector for the first time in a year and a half, Wentis says. By 4Q 2010, the market saw 4.4 MSF of positive absorption, which lowered the industrial vacancy rate in Maricopa County from 16.1% to 14.7%. Wentis estimates that solar companies contributed between 15% to 20% to that absorption.

The 14.7% vacancy rate means there is 40 MSF of industrial space available.

It is difficult to say whether there is enough available inventory for solar-related companies, as they don’t all require the same type of industrial space, Wentis says, adding that industrial is the most diversified of all the tenant types of space.

Solar proponents agree that Arizona is just starting to establish itself as a leader in the solar industry, but more needs to be done.

“Are we doing a good job? Yes,” Broome says. “Are we doing a great job? No. Could we be doing better? Yes.”

Factors that helped draw solar companies here and drive the production of solar generation include state tax incentives, utility incentives to customers for rooftop photovoltaic systems, a federal grant program that has been extended for one more year, and state renewable energy standards that require utilities to generate 15% of their kilowatt-hours sold from renewable sources by 2025.

Finally, the total installed cost of photovoltaics has dropped 40% in three years due to several factors, including better production, innovation, and the emergence of China into the market, says Nancy LaPlaca, a policy advisor and spokesperson for Arizona Corporation Commission commissioner Paul Newman.

Stable and well-thought-out energy policies would help the industry, Broome says, adding that the state has taken a “herky jerky” approach to renewable energy. A federal energy standard also would bring stability to the market, he adds.

The state also should discuss ways to export green energy, LaPlaca says. Currently, Arizona exports 30% of its electricity to California, but that is “brown” energy derived from coal, natural gas and nuclear.

For more information about GPEC and its efforts to bring solar companies to the Valley, visit gpec.org.

AZRE Magazine March/April 2011