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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jan. 25, 201805:04 AM EST

Council OKs incentives for solar panel manufacturer

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Project Volt would bring 800 jobs to city, invest $410 million.
by: David Cawton Staff Writer

City Council voted 19-0 Tuesday to approve an economic development agreement for nearly $25 million in city-backed financial incentives for an unnamed international solar panel manufacturer code-named Project Volt.

The funds are part of a $54 million incentives package offered by the city and the state to recruit the company to establish a U.S. headquarters and solar panel plant in Jacksonville.  

Volt pledges to hire 800 employees and invest $410 million into two facilities in North and West Jacksonville by 2019 in exchange for the incentives.

JAX Chamber and the city Office of Economic Development decline to identify the company, citing Florida law that allows them to protect Volt’s proprietary information.

The Daily Record reported Shanghai-based JinkoSolar Holdings Corp. fits the profile of Project Volt. JinkoSolar has not responded to emailed requests for comment.

The legislation, the first of the year, was fast-tracked through council.

The council Finance Committee unanimously approved the deal with little debate Jan. 17. The only questions from committee Chair Garrett Dennis were to confirm the city’s 1-to-3 return on investment as predicted by the Office of Economic Development.

There was no discussion at Tuesday’s council meeting.

The company plans to build-out and lease an 815,000-square-foot warehouse at 2969 Faye Road in North Jacksonville for a solar-panel assembly and distribution center. It also intends to convert a 407,353-square-foot building at 4660 New World Ave. in AllianceFlorida at Cecil Commerce Center in West Jacksonville into a manufacturing plant.

A city project summary says Volt would hire 400 employees by the end of the year and another 400 by the end of 2019. The average salary would be $45,562.

Council approved only the city’s contribution, which includes a Recaptured Enhanced Value grant up to $23.8 million over 10 years and $800,000 of a $4 million Qualified Targeted Industry Tax Refund grant.

The state’s contribution totals about $29 million in grants, incentives and tax breaks being negotiated by Enterprise Florida Inc. That includes the remaining $3.2 million toward the QTI grant.

The state also is promising a High Impact Performance Incentive worth up to $5 million; a Capital Investment Tax Credit the company can use to offset paying Florida state corporate income taxes over a 20-year period, with an annual cap of $20.5 million; up to $200,000 by way of a Veterans Florida Business Training Grant; Urban Job Tax Credits worth up $400,000 for hiring employees at a manufacturing operation at city-owned Cecil Commerce Center; and eligibility to avoid paying 100 percent of the sales and usage taxes on any equipment the company purchases for both facilities.

The state also will offer a Florida Flex Training Grant, although no amount has been announced. Additional incentives are being determined and one training grant is recurring.

Enterprise Florida Inc. and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity are not disclosing how incentives outlined for Project Volt were determined or when they will be approved.

In response to calls and emails requesting an explanation of the process of awarding incentives to a company like Volt, a representative from DEO directed the Daily Record to its incentives portal, a website which lists each type of incentive, and other economic development agreements that have been executed since 2000. 

Kirk Wendland, executive director of the Office of Economic Development, said before the meeting that the state typically approves its incentives package after council does.

“This is a great win for Jacksonville, and we hope it leads to similar companies, whether that’s in production or a related business. We hope they look at us, too,” Wendland said.

President Donald Trump announced Monday a tariff on imported solar panels and energy cells. Wendland said he didn’t want to comment on the president’s decision, but said it could present an opportunity for foreign companies to consider expanding in the U.S.

Renovations and equipment installation for Volt would start by June 30 with completion by the end of 2019.

Volt said it would use JaxPort to import and export large volumes, with most of the materials sourced from China, at least in the first few years.

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