Oregonians have faced an alarming question since the peak of the local semiconductor-manufacturing industry in 2001: Where will the state's growing ranks of young people find good new jobs?
This month, a ray of hope shone from the solar sector, an industry growing at 35 percent a year as the world confronts rising energy and environmental concerns. In Oregon's biggest industrial announcement since the tech bust, a German company, SolarWorld Group, said it will hire as many as 1,000 people to make wafers and cells in an unused Hillsboro chip-sector plant. Separately, a solar-panel company is eyeing the Salem area for a sizable factory.
It turns out state officials have secretly courted solar companies for years. Oregon, after all, has engineers, line workers and suppliers who know silicon, the main ingredient of microchips and solar panels. The state boasts relatively cheap power, attractive tax breaks, a green image and a prime location next to California — the world's largest solar market behind Germany and Japan.