Belgium-based Umicore, a world leader in germanium production is expanding its U.S. operations by building a $51-million, 40,000-square-foot germanium production plant in Oklahoma.
After a nationwide search, Umicore’s site selection committee chose Quapaw, a tiny town in the northeastern corner of Oklahoma (population less than 1,000). Other finalists in the search included Albuquerque, NM and Phoenix, AZ.
In addition to a close proximity to the end user, the deciding factors were:
1. Productivity – Even with manufacturing plants on every continent, the optics plant (next door to the germanium plant under construction) in Quapaw, is Umicore’s top producing facility in the world.
2. Available Labor Pool – According to a labor availability analysis conducted by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs, the Lamar Labor Basin, which includes parts of southwest Missouri, southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma, offered more than 51,000 available, qualified workers within a 45-minute commute.
Construction on the germanium wafer plant is nearing completion, with production expected to begin in the spring. The Umicore Group is a global operation with nearly 15,000 employees, and approx. $12.5 billion in annual revenue.
The recent federal stimulus package included grants for businesses and utilities that install solar energy systems, and the bank bailout package last year removed the dollar cap on a 30 percent tax credit for home installations. Makers of renewable energy equipment also received help in the stimulus package.
Clunky, inefficient rooftop solar panels installed in the 1980s and 1990s are being replaced by a new generation of smaller, high-efficiency solar cells similar to those used by NASA for spacecraft and satellites. Germanium-based solar cells are now cheaper to produce than the old silicon-based solar panels, and because they’re 40-50 percent more efficient, less rooftop space is needed.