By Jeff Kart
September 20, 2009, 2:30AM
There's a lot riding on a breakfast meeting in Hamburg, Germany this week for the Saginaw Valley's emerging solar-energy industry.
With the backing of the region's two solar heavy hitters -- Dow Corning Corp. in Bay County and Hemlock Semiconductor Group in Saginaw County -- area economic development leaders will press other solar companies to bring manufacturing and jobs to Michigan.
"We hope to make companies that are at the conference more aware of the Great Lakes Bay Region as a place for solar energy development," said Fred Hollister, president of Bay Future Inc. in Bay City.
"We're hoping to make contacts with decision makers in companies that will be expanding in the near future."
Hollister leaves today for Germany along with JoAnn T. Crary, president of the economic development group Saginaw Future Inc., and Scott Walker, CEO of Midland Tomorrow. They'll be participating in one of the world's largest solar-energy events, as part of an ongoing regional recruitment attraction program called Michigan Solar Advantage.
The 24th annual European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition is hosting 800 exhibitors and expects 40,000 visitors during its week-long run.
The three business-development leaders will carry the banner of the Great Lakes Bay Economic Development Partnership at the event.
Crary said the key moment will be a breakfast meeting the partnership is hosting on Thursday, where they are targeting specific solar companies that might benefit from locating in the Great Lakes Bay Region. About 80 people are expected to attend.
The companies will hear from Hemlock Semiconductor Vice President of Sales and Marketing Gary Homan and Dow Corning Director of Solar Solutions Eric Peeters, who are attending the trade show, Crary said. Each will talk about their company's solar operations in Michigan.
Hemlock Semiconductor, located in Thomas Township, makes polycrystalline silicon, the basis of solar wafers. Dow Corning announced last week it would spend several hundred million dollars to construct a plant next to Hemlock to make monosilane gas, which is used in thin-film solar panels, the other major technology.
Dow Corning is the majority owner of Hemlock Semiconductor.
The breakfast meeting will be co-sponsored by the Michigan Economic Development Corp.
Hollister said he doesn't know how many groups from other states will be making similar presentations at the conference.
His group's hook is that the Great Lakes Bay Region is already home to companies on the cutting-edge of solar development -- Dow Corning, Hemlock Semiconductor and Dow Chemical.
"I'm not expecting anybody to sign a contract for anything on that particular morning," Hollister said. "The more that they know about our region and what's available here, the more interested I think they'll be."
Hollister said the region's emerging solar industry should be attractive to other companies looking to locate near the source of development.
Monosilane gas, for instance, is expensive to transport, and so are other materials for solar manufacturing, like glass.
The area also has existing infrastructure for shipping, including highways, rail and ports, along with automotive suppliers that could adapt to supply the solar market.
Peeters said Dow Corning also will use the convention to promote a new solar encapsulation technology the corporation has developed to make solar panels more durable and with less production time. Peeters said the technology is very promising.
"It brings us that much closer to making solar a sustainable energy option throughout the globe," he said.
Hollister said he thinks it's also important to mention that innovations like encapsulation are being developed right here in the region.
"We're really excited," he said. "This is probably the biggest event we've done with the partnership."
Crary said Hemlock and the new Dow Corning plant allow the Economic Development Partnership to go after two major types of solar-panel production. Dow Corning's announcement of the start of construction of the new factory is perfect timing heading into the solar trade show in Germany, she said.