United Solar cuts jobs, idles plants

By Ryan Jeltema • Last Updated 11:58 am on Monday, November 07, 2011

United Solar Ovonic’s two Greenville plants are closed for the rest of this year.

GREENVILLE —  The hits keep coming for United Solar Ovonic.
The company announced another 144 job cuts in Greenville on Tuesday, dropping its local employment to about 40 for the rest of the year.
The company dropped from about 300 employees last year to 180 before Tuesday’s layoffs. It is not clear when those 120 job cuts occurred, but United Solar announced 300 global job cuts in May.
Tuesday’s layoffs are expected to be temporary at least through the end of this year.
Both local solar panel manufacturing plants are “on a temporary suspension” for at least the remainder of this year, said Michael Schostak, director of business development and communications for United Solar’s parent company, Energy Conversion Devices Inc. (ECD).
He said neither local plant will produce any products for the rest of this year while the company sells a backlog of inventory. Only maintenance, security and engineering staff remain at the plants.
The engineers are working the next generation of United Solar’s products.
Schostak is hopeful the two plants will reopen and the 144 jobs can be restored “at the beginning of the year.”
“But it depends on how quickly the inventory goes,” he said.
The last year has been marked with significant bad financial news for United Solar and ECD. European countries drastically cut their subsidies for solar installations in 2010 and 2011, causing a rapid drop in United Solar’s sales and revenue.
A bulk of United Solar’s sales historically have come from Europe. The company is trying diversify its market by more aggressively developing sales in North America.
James Freed, Stanton city manager and Lakeview village manager, predicted the company’s downfall years ago because it was relying too much on government subsidies.
“Government and taxpayer support cannot override the free market,” he said. “Everyone thinks government has a solution for everything. That’s good politics but not good policy.”
Schostak is confident United Solar can weather the tough times and become a stronger company.
“We believe this is a very difficult period for the solar industry. We’re not immune to that,” he said. “We will adapt and we will probably emerge as a stronger company. We’re working on managing costs, conserving cash and upgrading our technology to make us a better company.”

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