THOMAS TOWNSHIP, MI — It was four years ago when Tennessee lawmakers and residents of an up-and-coming community thought all of the answers to their town's challenges were coming in the form of a $1.2 billion polycrystalline silicon plant.
Thomas Township-based Hemlock Semiconductor had plans to build a massive plant in Clarksville, Tennessee, consisting of as many as 50 buildings on a 1, 215-acre site.
On Wednesday Dec. 17, Hemlock Semiconductor officials announced that its Clarksville site, located roughly 45 minutes northwest of Nashville, is closing permanently because of sustained adverse market conditions created by oversupply of polysilicon and ongoing challenges presented by global trade disputes.
Hemlock Semiconductor President Denise Beachy, who was in Tennessee on Wednesday, said the decision is a very difficult one because it affects employees.
"We've reached the conclusion that it's not economically viable to run the site under these conditions, " Beachy said during a phone interview.
Related: Meet Hemlock Semiconductor's new president, Denise Beachy
Hemlock Semiconductor Group is comprised of several joint venture companies owned in majority by Dow Corning Corp., which is headquartered in Bay County's Williams Township.
Hemlock Semiconductor makes high purity polycrystalline silicon used in the manufacture of semiconductors, computer chips, memory products, solar cells and other technologies used in renewable energy.
Construction of the Clarksville facility began in 2008, with intentions of having it up and running as an expansion of the Hemlock site's capabilities in 2012.
In this October 2010 photo, a sign at the site of Hemlock Semiconductor's Clarksville, Tenn. site shows all the contractors associated with the $1.2 billion project.By Andrew Dodson | The Bay City Times
At that time, officials expected the construction workforce to hit 1, 500 workers by mid-2011. Construction companies from the Great Lakes Bay Region, including Pumford Construction, Bierlein Companies and Fisher Contracting, worked at the Clarksville site, joining more than 50 contractors from 20 states.
The narrative at the time was that Saginaw County and the Great Lakes Bay Region was competing with Clarksville for future growth in the industry, although officials said there wasn't a rivalry.
"We believe that both areas can win in the attraction of the solar industry, " JoAnn T. Crary, president of Saginaw Future Inc., said in October 2010.
"Ultimately, there's going to be enough players in the market for all of us to benefit, " said James Chavez, former president and chief executive officer of the Clarksville-Montgomery County Economic Development Council, said in 2010.
In 2012, company officials decided not to proceed with plans to open the Clarksville site.
Denise BeachyMLive File Photo
"In 2012 is when the first trade actions were taken on polysilicon, and that's when the decision was made not to start up, but to keep the site on hold, " Beachy explained. "That's when the industry started to struggle and decline due to oversupply of polysilicon on a global basis."
Tennessee State Rep. Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville, called Hemlock's announcement a setback, but remains optimistic for the area.
"No one likes to see an industry decide to close its doors, " he said in a phone interview with MLive. "If there is a positive out of it, it does remove the question mark that's been over that plant."
Pitts said the town is readying itself for an investment by Hankook Tire, a Korean company, that is building a plant in Clarksville that is expected to bring up to 1, 800 jobs.
"That has taken the sting out of the Hemlock announcement to a certain extent, " he said.
Though the Clarksville facility has never been operational, Beachy said there are about 50 employees expected to be affected by its closure.
"We had a meeting with them this morning to notify them of this decision, " she said.
Most of them are being offered opportunities to transfer to Hemlock Semiconductor and other Dow Corning Corp. sites. Others are to receive severance packages.
Hemlock Semiconductor officials are now working closely with the local economic development agency in Clarksville to consider options for selling the site, a news release issued Wednesday states.
Beachy said Hemlock Semiconductor is a financially sound company.
"We will continue to operate from the Hemlock facility and continue to manufacture and sell polysilicon materials for electronics and solar customers, " she said.
The Hemlock site has been in operation for more than 53 years, and has received more than $2.5 billion of investment in the last 10 years, the release states.
"Hemlock Semiconductor will continue to advance polysilicon technology, which has enabled the era of high-tech innovation that we're in today, " Beachy said in a statement. "Our nearly 1, 000 employees will play an important role in helping our customers power the next generation of electronics and solar products."