GREENVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) - It was touted as the industry of the future and a jobs provider for a town that had become the poster child for the downfall of manufacturing in America.
When United Solar Ovonics, also known as Uni-Solar , opened in Greenville, politicians from both parties lined up to tout its potential as a maker of thin-film solar products for commercial rooftops.
The arrival of United Solar Ovonics and its parent company, Energy Conversion Devices in Auburn Hills, also brought hope.
Thursday, they both filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Energy Conversion Devices announced the filing in federal court in the Eastern District of Michigan.
The company says that United Solar's "current capital structure and legacy costs" have kept the company from making necessary investments.
Interactive Timeline: Uni-Solar 2006-2012
At its peak five years ago, 424 people worked at the Uni-Solar plant in Greenville.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, plant manager Tim Kelley said Uni-Solar will continue to operate with about 75 employees, half of whom will be placed on rolling furloughs. Energy Conversion Devices hopes to complete the sale of Uni-Solar in 90 days, with a goal of keeping the company in business beyond that time.
Kelley said Uni-Solar has $263 million in loans due in 2013, and they don't believe they will have the resources to pay those debts.
When asked if Uni-Solar's trouble is getting "green energy" widely accepted in the US, he cited global forces, including the European market and foreign tariffs.
"Again, I don't really want to get into why we're here," Kelley said.
In the bankruptcy paperwork, Energy Conversion Devices lists the City of Greenville as a debtor, owing the city $209,866.49 for a "refund of grant proceeds."
Uni-Solar filled the gaping hole left when Electrolux left Greenville in 2006.
Rick Gotwalt was among the 2,000 people who walked out of the Electrolux plant and onto the unemployment lines. He spent seven months working in the Uni-Solar plant setting up machinery.
But as time went on, he saw a different writing on the wall.
"It's like dangling a carrot in front of them and saying we're going to give you the world, you give us this, get all the funding and whatnot."
It's unclear exactly how much in public dollars went into the plant.
Despite sales conditions that left a backlog of the thin solar panels on the factory floor, plant manager Kelley said the new owners won't have the debt burden.
"We feel very confident that we will be bought and we will be an ongoing business and continue to grow," he said.
And many in and around Greenville, like Rick Gotwalt, hope he's right.
"You've got to have hope. Without hope you might as well roll over and give up."
Greenville city officials declined to speak on-camera, but sent a statement to the media that said they have hope for the future and will support the company any way they can.
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