GREENVILLE — United Solar Ovonic (USO) and its parent company, Energy Conversion Devices (ECD), voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy today.
The news could not be more different than six years ago when plans were announced to construct six solar panel manufacturing facilities in Greenville for a total of 1,200 new jobs.
Click here for a six-year timeline of United Solar Ovonic in Greenville.
In reality, four plants were created in two buildings and a total of 474 people were employed at the peak of operation.
Today, about 70 employees remain at USO and half of them will be laid off while ECD looks for a buyer to purchase USO.
USO Plant Manager Tim Kelley said the 70 remaining employees will go into rotating furloughs for the next 13 weeks while ECD pursues a buyer for USO.
Some employees will have three-week furloughs, while others will be laid off during the entire 90-day sale period.
Kelley said USO has not had productive operations since Nov. 6, 2011.
“Restructuring under Chapter 11 is something that is a very serious matter and is something that the company does not take lightly,” Kelley said. “However, the company has been in a slow and steady downtown for a period of time, which required us to fix essential issues sooner rather than later.”
ECD and USO have incurred $263.2 million in debt due in 2013, in addition to “significant” legacy costs incurred over the past 50 years, according to Kelley. He blamed the company’s financial situation to instability in the European market, banking industry and housing industry, among other issues.
“There’s a lot of reasons for why we’re here, too many to list,” he said. “It’s a combination of many things. We have not sold as much product, we have not reached the buyers that we anticipated and there’s many reasons for it.”
Kelley declined to comment on ECD and USO owing $209,866.49 to the city of Greenville, according to bankruptcy court records, saying the total may not be accurate.
USO will remain open during the sale process and employees will work on a technology roadmap and some special projects.
“However, all associates here in Greenville will be affected in some manner,” Kelley said. “We do not anticipate to be running any productive operations during this time unless we see an uptic in confirmed orders and our finished module inventory is relieved.”
Kelley said he spoke to many USO employees this morning about the bankruptcy news.
“There wasn’t a lot of surprise,” he said. “I think they’re optimistic that we will be hearing from our senior leadership team that we are a stronger company, that we look stronger for somebody to buy us and make us a continuable, operable company.
“We are a valuable company,” he said. “The process we’re going through right now adds value because we’re able to shed some of the debt. We feel very confident that we will be bought, that we will be an ongoing business and that we will continue to grow.”
Greenville City Manager George Bosanic released a statement this afternoon regarding the bankruptcy news.
“Since 2006, Uni-Solar has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into two facilities and created hundreds of jobs for the Greenville community,” the statement read.”The solar industry, like many others, has struggled as of late and the company continues to make the necessary adjustments to adapt. Uni-Solar has chosen to pursue Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection which unfortunately, we have seen many companies reluctantly pursue, some others here in Greenville as well. Many that have done so have emerged healthier, vibrant and more able to realize their potential. We are optimistic Uni-Solar will be as fortunate. The city of Greenville values each and every company in our community and we will support and partner with them in any way we can.”
ECD has retained investment banking firm Quarton Partners to manage the USO sales process.
“We firmly believe there is a strong and sustainable commercial market for Uni-Solar products,” said ECD President and CEO Julian Hawkins in an issued statement. “The processes we initiated today will afford greater opportunity for ECD to maximize value for its stakeholders and conduct an orderly sale of USO to ensure it is viable and successful for the long run.”