JCIDA files for $500K grant for solar plant

Watertown International Airport in Dexter. Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — The Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency has applied for a $500,000 federal grant to help with startup costs for a potentially massive solar manufacturing plant that would be built in a proposed business park near Watertown International Airport.

In February, the JCIDA announced that Convalt Energy, a New York City-based renewable energy company, plans to build a solar panel manufacturing facility in the agency’s proposed business park on Route 12F in the town of Hounsfield. Its sister company, DigiCollect, would also build a facility in the airport park.

The solar manufacturing plant could be the biggest economic development project in the JCIDA’s history with an investment of $834 million and could create more than 2,000 jobs over the next five years.

The JCIDA submitted the application on Wednesday for the $500,000 grant with the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would be used as working capital to develop the project, for professional services, equipment purchases and/or construction costs.

The funding would come through the USDA’s Rural Business Development program that helps projects to benefit small and emerging businesses in rural areas, according to its website.

David J. Zembiec, chief executive officer of Jefferson County Economic Development, the JCIDA’s sister organization, said he’s been working on several aspects of the project since it was announced.

“I’m focused on some other stuff that we’re nailing down,” he said.

While he’s working in some areas of the project, Mr. Zembiec said Convalt Energy CEO Hari Achutan is focused on attracting investors, engineering and design, site plan approval, permitting and other aspects of the project.

The companies will make an initial investment of $51 million to get up and running, with Convalt facility initially creating about 165 jobs in the first year, then grow to 525 in five years. DigiCollect would employ an additional 175 people in Watertown in its first year and expand to 1,535 jobs after five years.

In year one, Convalt plans to build a 20,000-square-feet facility and hopes to expand it to about 500,000 square feet by the fifth year, while DigiCollect would initially construct a 5,000-square-foot facility that would grow to 100,000 square feet in year five.

The JCIDA plans to give the two companies 20-year tax abatement packages and provide DigiCollect a $500,000 loan and Convalt a $250,000 loan.

The state plans to offer tax credits to the companies, based on job performance. Other area economic development organizations also would provide funding for the two projects.

The companies would be the first to build in the proposed airport business park owned by the JCIDA.

The companies hope to break ground on the airport park project in the fourth quarter of this year, or early 2022.

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