Indiana Officials Hopeful Over Abound Solar Prospects

Solar panel maker's decision to take over a sprawling auto parts factory that has sat unfinished since 2008 has local officials excited about the prospects beyond the promised 850 jobs.

TIPTON, Ind. (AP) -- A solar panel maker's decision to take over a sprawling auto parts factory that has sat unfinished since 2008 has local officials excited about the prospects beyond the promised 850 jobs.

The new life for the empty factory near Tipton comes from Colorado-based Abound Solar, which will move into what had been planned as a 1,400-worker factory building transmissions for Chrysler until German auto parts maker Getrag stopped construction.

President Barack Obama announced over the weekend that Abound Solar would receive $400 million in federal loan guarantees toward the Indiana plant and one in Colorado.

Tipton County officials had been working for months to attract Abound Solar to the 800,000-square-foot factory along U.S. 31.

"This announcement takes a big load of the county's back," county Commissioner Ken Ziegler said. "The county just continued to support the company looking to locate here. I am glad it is green energy and not automotive."

The rural county's 10.4 percent unemployment rate for May was slightly higher than the statewide rate, and Tipton Mayor Dan Delph, a retired Chrysler worker in nearby Kokomo, said he was encouraged by the prospect of many engineering and technician jobs at the plant.

"It will diversify the work force away from the automobile industry," Delph said. "When the automobile industry went down, it took Tipton with it. Now all of our eggs aren't in one basket."

State commerce secretary Mitch Roob said most of the proceeds from the building's sale will go to contractors who weren't paid when Getrag filed for bankruptcy protection on the Tipton factory in 2009.

"We worked hard on the bankruptcy," Roob said. "The governor wanted to make sure we worked with the contractors. This is not perfect, but we're pleased with the outcome."

Abound Solar plans to make panels with thin-film photovoltaic technology at the factory. It says that when its $500 million investment in new equipment and building improvements is complete the plant will be the largest solar panel manufacturing facility in the country and produce millions of panels a year.

County Commissioner Jane Harper, who is president of the county Redevelopment Commission, said the Abound Solar deal for the factory comes as wind farms also planned for the area about 35 miles north of Indianapolis.

"We can create a unique marketing opportunity in selling Tipton County and its products as the 'green' capital," she said. "Sometimes lost opportunities allow for even better opportunities to come our way."

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