Mass. Rethinks State Aid After Solar Jobs Leave A solar panel manufacturer's decision to move its factory to China means the loss of 800 jobs in Massachusetts. The state gave the company many incentives. But officials say the federal government needs to play a stronger role in keeping manufacturing jobs in the U.S.
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Loss Of Solar Jobs Has Mass. Rethinking State Aid

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Loss Of Solar Jobs Has Mass. Rethinking State Aid

Loss Of Solar Jobs Has Mass. Rethinking State Aid

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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In Massachusetts, 800 employees of a factory that makes solar panels are now looking for work, and the loss of their jobs at Evergreen Solar is a blow to Massachusetts.

Just three years ago, the state persuaded the company to open up in an old army base, hoping it would become a hub for green industry. And now the jobs are moving to China.

NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH: On paper, this was a match made in heaven: young attractive green energy company willing to relocate, seeks generous admirer for mutually beneficial relationship. And environmentally-minded empty-nester, seeks trophy tenant to lavish and love.

Before you could say love at first sight, Evergreen moved in, began to reap millions in fringe benefits, and the family grew from one, to three to 800 employees. Until one day the state woke up to what was basically a note on the kitchen table saying Evergreen was leaving.

Mr. JACK BURROUGHS (Engineer): I was shocked.

SMITH: Jack Burroughs got the news just one week after starting work at Evergreen, while many are furious at Massachusetts for giving the company so much. Burroughs says maybe Evergreen didnt get enough.

Mr. BURROUGHS: I like the idea of the state supporting an industry such as this. But maybe there needs to be more federal support.

SMITH: Massachusetts Economic Development Secretary, Greg Bialecki agrees.

Mr. GREG BIALECKI (Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development): We feel like we gave it our best shot. And I think, realistically, we have to talk about what role the federal government is going to play to keep manufacturing here and not to let it go overseas.

SMITH: Indeed, Evergreen says don't blame us for walking out.

Mr. MICHAEL EL-HILLOW (CEO, Evergreen): Yes, its gone bad. But there are two sides to story.

SMITH: CEO Michael El-Hillow says Evergreen can't compete with companies in China that get way more government support. He says Washington needs to nurture fledgling industries.

Mr. EL-HILLOW: Its also the role of government, to make jobs for our citizens, our children. Thats their role. Or lets acknowledge that were going to lose in the job creation stream.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Professor EDWARD GLAESER (Economics, Harvard): Yeah. You know, it sort of has remarkable chutzpah doesnt it.

SMITH: Thats Harvard economics professor Edward Glaeser, who says government should not be playing venture capitalist and definitely shouldnt have invested in manufacturing in such a high-cost labor market.

Republican state representative, Brad Jones, says the state was seduced by a sexy new industry.

Representative BRAD JONES (Republican, Massachusetts): There was a leading with your heart, not your head, which was I really believe in this, and this is going to be great, this is going to put us on the map, and were going to be, you know, green, green, green, this is great. And I think that served to cloud judgment.

SMITH: Even Democratic supporters, like state Senator James Eldridge, are now expressing morning-after regret.

Senator JAMES ELDRIDGE (Democrat, Massachusetts): I admit that I was mistaken. I learned my lesson.

SMITH: The most important, get a better pre-nup.

State officials concede their deal could have been tougher, but ultimately, they say they will recover most of their investment if you count taxes that have come in and future benefits that will never be paid out, and they point to the hundreds who had jobs through three tough years.

But Harvard's Ed Glaeser says the biggest mistake would be to measure an energy policy by how it works as a jobs program.

Prof. GLAESER: We need a good energy policy. But the point of that policy should not be to maximize the number of employees. You know, if we try do energy and jobs together, I think we get neither a good energy program nor a good jobs program.

SMITH: So Massachusetts may have lost 800 jobs, but, Glaeser says, if the state's investment helps reduce long-term costs of green energy, well then, 'tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Tovia Smith, NPR News.

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