A Korean firm will put a $150 million solar module factory in northwest Georgia by next year, creating 500 jobs in a segment of the state that still hasn’t fully recovered from a housing crisis a decade ago.
Hanhwa Q CELL becomes the first Korean investor in Dalton, Ga., whose strong flooring sector was hit hard during the downturn. Construction is set to begin this year, with production beginning in 2019, according to a news release from Gov. Nathan Deal‘s office.
The firm joins a cohort of about 80 facilities operated by Korean firms, one of the state’s largest source nations for foreign investment since Kia Motors opened a massive auto plant here in 2006, followed in due course by many parts suppliers.
Hanwha is the latest foreign solar manufacturer to announce a U.S. plant in the wake tariffs President Donald Trump imposed in January on solar cells and modules. Chinese and German firms have also announced major solar investments during the first half of 2018.
The trade remedy starts with a 30 percent tariff in the first year and steps down by 5 percent per year for three additional years. The order exempts the first 2.5 gigawatts worth of imported solar cells from the additional tariffs. (Given that the exemption more than eclipses last year’s overall U.S. manufacturing capacity, the action was much less bold than some had called for.)
In an ironic twist, the decision that helped bring in the Korean firm stemmed from a dispute involving a homegrown Georgia solar firm, Suniva Inc., which aimed to protect itself from foreign competition.
The now-bankrupt company, which is now coincidentally owned by a Chinese firm, lodged a complaint with the International Trade Commission last May alleging that imports were decimating American solar manufacturers. The president agreed, despite warnings from industry groups that higher panel prices would harm the hundreds of thousands of jobs nationwide that depend on solar installations.
Hanwha didn’t respond to an email requesting comment, but trade is obviously on executives’ minds. A recent news release conveyed that the Georgia investment shows its commitment to the U.S. market, “in spite of the recently imposed trade barriers.” Europe had become the company’s top overseas market as of last year, though statements in its SEC filings show that it’s been looking for ways to get back into the U.S.
In its annual report for 2017, the NASDAQ-listed company hinted that it would focus its U.S. efforts making cells better suited for the residential segment because they would be “less affected by trade barriers.”
A major piece of Hanwha Q CELLS Co. Ltd. nearly $2.2 billion in global revenues comes not only making the solar panels themselves, but also an Energy Performance Contract arm in which it designs and constructs utility, commercial and residential solar plants that deploy them.
Based in Seoul, the company has its technology and innovation headquarters in Thalheim, Germany, and factories in Malaysia and China. It’s part of the Hanwha Group, a $55 billion conglomerate that’s part of the Fortune Global 500.