By The Business Review (Albany)

General Electric's decision to locate a $300 million solar panel manufacturing plant in Colorado wasn't a shortcoming of New York's efforts, but a lack of inventory.

"New York is clearly open for business. They worked all the angles they could. They just did not have a building that allowed us to get to market fast enough," Vic Abate said in an interview with The Business Review. Abate is vice president of GE's renewable energy business, headquartered in Schenectady.

New York vied for the $300 million plant but lost, largely because there was no existing facility big enough and within a one-hour drive of its Capital Region facilities, he said.

Also working against New York: GE was already making test solar panels at a Colorado company it acquired this year, located near where the new plant will open.

GE will add 100 doctorate, engineer and technologist positions between two sites in Schenectady County to support the work in Colorado: GE Global Research in Niskayuna, and its global renewable energy headquarters at its Schenectady campus.

The jobs will be added over the next three to five years, GE said. The two local sites currently have more than 2,700 employees combined.

The positions will include management, engineers designing the newest features of the solar panels, and a team who will negotiate contracts with new and existing clients, Abate said.

"Those jobs naturally make sense in the Capital Region because of our heritage and footprint there, and the depth of intellectual resources in that area," Abate said.

The Colorado plant will open next year. Building a new facility, in New York or elsewhere, was out of the question because it would have taken GE two years longer to get to that point, Abate said.

Local development officials said GE was seeking a building of more than 200,000 square feet, with room to grow. GE said its Colorado plant will eventually be the size of 11 football fields.

"We really needed to get this first factory off the ground fast. In New York, we did not have a building within an hour of our headquarters ... and we couldn't risk doing this in a farther-away location that didn't have the talent to pull it off," Abate said.

"Long-term, we'll have production facilities not only in Colorado but in other locations around the U.S., and the world," Abate added.

Copyright 2011 American City Business Journals

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