Just in time to brighten the holidays, GlobalWatt, a Saginaw-based solar panel manufacturer, is selling five solar panels on the popular auction website, eBay. But GlobalWatt did not make the panels. A company in India did - a strange strategy for GloblaWatt, a company that was approved for special state tax breaks in order to create manufacturing jobs in Michigan.
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy first raised questions about GlobalWatt in September. The Center's Kathy Hoekstra and Mike LaFaive discovered claims made by GlobalWatt on its application for state tax credits were misleading or simply not true (making false claims on such an application is a felony). Those tax credits were contingent upon GlobalWatt following through on promises of job creation. A November 22 report by a local TV station discovered those jobs have not yet come to fruition. In fact, the report said only 17 people work at GlobalWatt, "mostly in sales, marketing and fundraising," with conflicting figures about the number of manufacturing jobs. The company's CEO said there were seven or eight people in manufacturing. The community college that trained these workers told the TV station GlobalWatt only hired one person.
Chris Philbrick is a former consultant with Globalwatt. He says while employed by GlobalWatt, he visited Hindhivac (HHV), a company in India, to build a business relationship. Philbrick says GlobalWatt ordered 12 solar panels from HHV, five of which are the items depicted on eBay.
GlobalWatt admits in an e-mail via eBay, "These are Made in India. But they are using very high content of US made material. The cells are from Suniva, from Georgia."
Philbrick explains that these panels may even have GlobalWatt labels on them, "This is perfectly legal and may be part of the business plan, but there isn't as much money to be made in selling solar panels on behalf of another company."
Nor is it the business plan originally laid out to the state when GlobalWatt applied for tax credits. The application states GlobalWatt's intent to make solar panels:
GlobalWatt is considering its first U.S. solar module manufacturing plant and North American Manufacturing headquarters to assemble multi-crystalline or mono-crystalline silicon solar panels.
Calls and e-mails to GlobalWatt about its decision to use eBay as a sales platform have not yet been answered.
It is doubtful this eBay endeavor will have any impact on Globalwatt's tax credit status. What may have an impact, however, is the number of jobs created so far this year. The application predicts 60 jobs by the end of 2010. GlobalWatt's reported staff of 17 falls far short of that benchmark.
In eBay-speak, GlobalWatt should remain on Michigan's "Watch List."