Lenders throw SolarWorld $6M lifeline amidst widespread layoffs
In an effort to keep its Hillsboro plant operating, SolarWorld Americas has cut more than half its workforce in the last month, a SolarWorld spokesperson confirmed to the Tribune Thursday.
SolarWorld laid off 360 employees and with attrition, reduced the workforce by around 500 total employees. SolarWorld employed around 800 workers when it announced possible layoffs in May.
Head of Corporate Communications Ben Santarris said production will drop in the wake of major workforce reduction.
"We have a new business plan going forward, but production will be at a lower level than in the past for a foreseeable future," Santarris said. "We would hope to return to growth and hiring."
SolarWorld's parent company, SolarWorld AG, filed for insolvency in Europe in May, sending a ripple effect through the company's other business. SolarWorld initially said it would operate its American branch "as usual" but later said that it would need to make massive layoffs in order to stay afloat.
The solar giant has made several other moves to "stabilize" its American arm.
On July 12, the company announced that lenders for the solar panel manufacturer's parent company have offered to give the struggling Hillsboro business $6 million in cash, to help the company survive while it waits on a federal decision that might raise taxes and tariffs on foreign-made solar panels, which the company says has dramatically hurt its business.
Juergen Stein, president of SolarWorld Americas, said that the cash infusion would "enable the company to stabilize and optimize operations through 2017 and beyond."
"This financial reinforcement is good for our customers and suppliers alike," Stein said. "It means quite simply that we can reassure our business partners that we will remain a reliable force not only in supplying leading solar technology but also in continuing to fight for fair trade in the U.S. market and improving market conditions there."
As part of the deal, SolarWorld will sell off some assets "not required for operations," which includes a warehouse on Northeast Brookwood Parkway. Between the sale of assets and the influx of cash, Santarris said SolarWorld has received "totals of somewhere in double-digit millions."
"We are re-investing in our business to continue serving our loyal customers, as always," Stein said. "With that, we will continue to fight for the U.S. solar industry's future, just as we have done through the industry's ups and downs over these four past decades."
SolarWorld has co-signed a petition urging the federal government to to impose steep tariffs on foreign made solar products. SolarWorld officials have argued for years that cheaper Chinese products have flooded the market.
But leaders in the solar installation industry say tariffs will cause prices to rise in the United States, which will hurt domestic sales. A June report warned that the suggested tariffs might increase prices and drive down demand down demand for solar panels nationwide.
"Our adversaries have proclaimed the sky will fall if we have fair competition on U.S. soil, as they've done so in the previous two sets of cases," Santarris said. "But the solar industry kept right on growing."
Santarris declined to speculate on what might happen should the government decline to impose new tariffs, but did say the tariffs were crucial to SolarWorld's business plan.
"I think we have a promising future going forward, and the trade case is a key part of that strategy," he said. "We believe we should have fair competition in the U.S. market, and we're fighting for it."
The U.S. International Trade Commission is investigating whether or not foreign-made products have hurt the U.S. solar industry. A report is expected on Sept. 22, but the ultimate decision will fall to President Donald Trump in mid-January 2018.