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State leaders downplay SolarCity concerns during Buffalo factory tour

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Michael Mroziak, WBFO
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Part of Governor Cuomo's visit to Buffalo on Wednesday was a tour of the mammoth facility in the city's Riverbend neighborhood, where SolarCity is expected to begin solar panel component production next year. While greeting and praising the workers who continue to build the million-square-foot facility, Cuomo also downplayed concerns about SolarCity's fiscal health.

Cuomo stood before dozens of workers inside the sprawling complex, praising them for rebuilding what used to be the Republic Steel site into a facility for producing clean energy.

  

The SolarCity factory is perhaps the most ambitious project among Cuomo's "Buffalo Billion" investments in Western New York. But concerns have been raised about SolarCity and its overall fiscal health. It originally projected 1,500 new manufacturing jobs to be created at its Buffalo factory but later adjusted that number to 500. More recently, the company agreed to a $2.6 billion takeover by Tesla Motors. 

"We were talking about it this morning. If it happens, I think it's only good," Cuomo said about the proposed merger of companies.

Howard Zemsky, president and CEO of Empire State Development, also downplayed any concerns and dismissed any rumors of "insolvency."

"SolarCity has almost two billion dollar market capitalization. I think discussion about things like insolvency are off the mark," Zemsky said. "This is the number one market share company in the country in solar panels, and one of the fastest-growing industries in the world." 

Both Zemsky and Cuomo suggested 500 workers will be a good starting point for Buffalo's factory. The governor said the market may fluctuate but renewable energy is coming.

"What we're betting on, what the world is betting on, are alternative energy sources and solar is going to be chief among them," Cuomo said to reporters following his tour and meeting with those workers. "Getting this facility here and getting this manufacturer here, and this manufacturer dominates the market, I think we're exactly where we need to be."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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