CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Construction of a new $1.2 billion solar technology plant in Clarksville has inspired some Middle Tennesseans to change careers.
At age 28, Keith Collins is already starting his second career, having made the transition from sales to green manufacturing.
"I was working in sales. Actually, I already have a bachelor's degree. The economy went down hill in 2008. Businesses were kind of falling off and here comes Hemlock into Clarksville, just a billion dollar plant in our backyard," he told Nashville's News 2. "It was the right fit for me."
Collins has since earned a two-year degree in chemical engineering technology from Austin Peay State University and will work at the new plant off Joe Johnson Road as a production operator.
"We're [production operators], the front line team that produces the poly silicon that is the cornerstone material that goes into the solar panel," he explained.
Hemlock Semiconductor began operations in Hemlock, Michigan in 1961 and is now one of the world's leading suppliers of polycrystalline silicon, a material used in solar technology.
The company broke ground on its new Clarksville plant in 2009. The facility is scheduled to open in 2012.
"Having a new company in town is just huge and for morale, the morale of town, everyone is just happy," said Dr. Jaime Taylor, Dean of the College of Math and Science at Austin Peay State University. "It's just an exciting time."
Hemlock has a partnership with Austin Peay to train its workforce and this month, more than 50 students graduated from the university's new chemical engineering technology program.
The company is currently in the process of hiring 500 full-time employees.
"We're looking for engineers, skilled trade persons, such as pipe fitters, welders, electricians, as well as production operators," Brian Amick, a training manager at Hemlock Semiconductor, told Nashville's News 2.
With solar panels being installed all over the country, the U.S. solar market is widening its reach. Demand is nearly double what it was last year and Collins is excited to be part of it.
"It's been a 180-degree career change," he added. "It's been great."
Hemlock Semiconductor has said it hopes to make Tennessee a leader in solar energy with the construction of the new Clarksville facility and is already considering a $3 billion expansion.
Persons interesting in working at the plant should apply online.