BUFFALO, N.Y. -- SolarCity and SUNY Polytechnic say changes to their agreement for the Riverbend site will not result in any job losses for the Western New York area.
The state is investing $750 million on the 1.2 million square foot facility, which SolarCity will lease to produce up to 10,000 solar panels per day once production is at full capacity.
SolarCity and SUNY Poly say the company will still directly employ 1,460 people in Buffalo, unchanged from the original agreement. They say automation simply means fewer of those workers will be needed inside the factory.
"Automation at the plant means more hires can be directed towards research and development, as well as sales, installation, facilities, and management positions," said Jerry Gretzinger, spokesperson for SUNY Poly.
Gretzinger said the R&D, management and sales positions will pay 2 to 3 times more than the previously-planned factory jobs, so "it's good news" for the local economy.
Critics point out that high-tech manufacturing jobs are highly sought-after nationwide and here locally, and the change means we'll only get a third of what was initially promised.
Gretzinger also addressed concerns that the amended agreement no longer specifically requires SolarCity to work with the state to bring in 1,440 supply and contracting jobs. He said SolarCity stands by that commitment and that those jobs will be necessary to the day-to-day operations of the factory. Sources in state government were not able to explain why that was written out of the agreement.
Sources with SolarCity and the state said the company will still bring around 3,000 jobs to Western New York, which was the initial promise.
The new agreement does increase the total number of jobs SolarCity guarantees to bring to New York State. That figure is now at 5,000 jobs total.
"SolarCity is contractually obligated to employ more New Yorkers than ever before," Gretzinger said. It's unclear exactly what those jobs will be, although sources say many will be in the installation field as more and more solar panels are leased to homeowners and businesses in the state.
An industry source said, despite there only being 500 employees inside the factory, the output and equipment needs will remain that same. As a result, "every square inch" of space will be utilized inside the massive building. Construction is scheduled to wrap up within the next few months.