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A Chattanooga solar equipment manufacturer is looking for 30 additional employees after a 25,000-square-foot expansion last year.
Over the past year, Lectrus increased its Chattanooga staff by 25 percent. This new addition will bring the total staff to about 250 employees.
Tyson Chandler is one of those hired in the past year. He started in January and said it's exciting to be part of an expanding company.
"We always like to see the demand increase to the point where we have to expand the facility," the environmental, health and safety coordinator said. "A lot of these jobs are skilled jobs, and it's important to get the right people in there."
In the past, Lectrus focused on manufacturing products related to the oil and gas industries. When those markets began to shrink about three years ago, the company started looking around for areas of growth.
Today, Lectrus is ramping up its production of custom metal electrical enclosures and equipment skids for solar arrays, capturing the growing solar energy market. The company has found a strong market in Tennessee, doing work for the state's largest solar farm.
"Like any business, if your traditional markets you're anticipating to decline, you're looking for growth markets," said Deron Austin, vice president of marketing and technical services.
The solar industry has seen rapid growth over the past several years, benefiting from federal grants and utility incentive programs such as the Tennessee Valley Authority's energy buyback program. With those programs, businesses were able to recover the hundreds of thousands of dollars large-scale solar arrays cost within a couple years.
"Despite the recession, the U.S. solar industry doubled last year," said Monique Hanis, spokeswoman for the nonprofit Solar Energy Industries Association. "What that means is jobs. Jobs in manufacturing and instillation and project development, really across the country."
Government incentives have helped that industry grow. As more solar companies have entered the market -- Tennessee alone has 160 -- prices have been pushed down and arrays have become accessible for more businesses. In the past year, prices dropped 50 percent, according to Solar Energy Industries Association statistics.
"There is some skepticism that says a couple years from now, the solar market in the U.S. might not be what it is today," Austin said. "Because of competition, the prices have been coming down, but there also are fewer incentives today even than there was last year."
Solar still is an expensive energy source, Austin said, but as that competition forces prices lower and the cost of oil rises, he expects the 30 jobs his company is adding will place them at just the right size to meet demand.
"Right now we're probably scaled to the level we feel comfortable," he said. "We're not going to expand hoping and praying on greater business coming, but once we are able to secure more business, then we'll expand."