JCIDA official praises 2 solar projects

Two companies plan to invest $650 million and create 2,000 jobs at a proposed business park next to Watertown International Airport. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — The region’s economy would also get a boost from spin-off business generated by construction of a proposed solar panel manufacturing plant near the Watertown International Airport.

Last week, the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency 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. DigiCollect, a related company, would also build a facility in the airport park.

Hari Achutan, chief executive officer of Convalt Energy, said his company’s $834 million investment would provide opportunities for spin-off businesses.

He’s been in contact with companies to fabricate steel, adding those efforts would help build the local supply chain. Mr. Achutan said other material, such as electrical wire, would provide spin-off opportunities that would lead to job creation.

He also projected Convalt’s plans to build a solar panel manufacturing plant and a facility for its affiliated company, DigiCollect, would create about 200 construction jobs.

David J. Zembiec, CEO of Jefferson County Economic Development, the JCIDA’s sister organization, said local companies would benefit from the two projects.

“Certainly, the opportunity is there for spin-off business,” he said, adding that new businesses also could be created from the development in the airport business park.

It’s envisioned that the two companies would invest $834 million in the projects. Combined, the two projects are expected to create more than 2,000 jobs over the next five years. The companies will make an initial investment of $51 million to get up and running.

The Convalt facility would initially create about 165 jobs in the first year, then grow to 525 in five years, JCIDA officials said. 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. That facility would be built on 15 acres just east of the airport entrance.

DigiCollect also would initially construct a 5,000-square-foot facility that would grow to 100,000 square feet in year five. The DigiCollect building would be constructed on about 12 acres, just west of the airport on a former farm.

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

The JCIDA plans to give the two companies 20-year tax abatement packages.

The agency also would provide DigiCollect a $500,000 loan and Convalt a $250,000 loan with 3% interest over a term of seven years.

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 two companies would acquire the land in the airport park once they are ready to build, JCIDA officials said.

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