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July 26, 2014

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economy:

$6 billion news escapes some Laughlin residents, but not for long

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Justin Bowen

Laughlin and Bullhead City, Ariz., as seen in 2011.

It could be the biggest thing to hit Laughlin since, well, ever.

But word that Clark County will enter negotiations with a Chinese energy company planning a $6 billion solar-generating plant, solar panel factory and industrial park just south of town hadn’t drawn much attention Tuesday.

People at real estate agencies, casinos, a Mexican restaurant and other Laughlin businesses had no inkling of the proposal, which took its first steps Tuesday, when the County Commission voted to seek a development agreement and appraisals on the 5,400 acres of county-owned land that ENN Mojave Energy Corp. LLC, wants to develop.

“The first I heard about it was yesterday and that was someone just mentioning it,” said a woman who answered the phone at the Hideout, a bar and one of the few noncasino hangouts for Laughlin locals.

“I’m not a big news guy,” said an employee who answered the phone at a local pizza place.

Make no mistake, though, that if the development moves as quickly as ENN Mojave Energy wants, everyone in the town 90 miles south of Las Vegas will know about it by year’s end.

“We’re very excited about it,” said Tony Timmons, Laughlin Chamber of Commerce president. “Anything that diversifies the economy and increases job opportunities in Laughlin, we support.”

The plant — which would be built about 12 miles south of Laughlin, along Needles Highway and just north of the Mojave Indian Reservation — could be under construction by late this year or early 2012. A summary of ENN’s plans said the factory would be 500,000 to 1 million square feet and capable of churning out 2.7 million to 5.4 million solar panels a year.

For the first two or three years, those panels would stay in Laughlin, where ENN wants to build a solar farm capable of generating up to 840 megawatts of power. One megawatt powers 1,000 homes, according to some estimates.

All those panels could translate into 2,000 permanent jobs, which the company estimates will pay more than $70,000 a year. Another 4,000 construction workers will be hired over four years to build the factory and solar farm.

A question on the mind of commissioners Tuesday: Where will they find the workers?

Click to enlarge photo

Steve Sisolak

Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who had met with ENN officials five or six times before Tuesday’s meeting, said he was assured that the majority of those workers will be hired from Nevada. The company plans to establish classes for technical work at the College of Southern Nevada.

“I’m as concerned as anyone that the taxpayers get value for this deal,” Sisolak said. “But I’d bet on these 5,400 acres. For someone to come in with an idea to develop that land, it’s a huge boon for Laughlin, for all of Clark County.”

Anthony Marnell, owner of Marnell Sher Gaming LLC, which owns and operates the Colorado Belle and Edgewater resorts in Laughlin, said if the project happens, “this could be a long-term stable industry for Laughlin. That’s a good thing.”

He envisions migratory construction workers filling homes and apartments left vacant by the recession. It’s almost something, he said, that makes “you kind of pinch yourself.”

“Is it too good to be true? I’m very encouraged, though.”

Whether the potential economic impact reaches Las Vegas won’t be known for years, possibly.

At UNLV, professor Robert Boehm, director of the Center for Energy Research, doesn’t expect a direct boost to the center, even if the development and his research go hand in hand. He expects the company will rely on the work of researchers in China.

“I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, and we’d be open-armed if they were at all interested in working with us,” Boehm added. “But many of these companies have their own way of doing things closer to home.”

Sisolak acknowledged that company officials said they would bring their own research team. That’s fine with him, as long as the development happens.

“No matter what, this is going to be huge,” he said. “This is jobs and it’s long, long overdue diversification of the economy.”

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  1. People will be spending money earned working for a Chinese company on Chinese goods at Wal-Mart.

    Tell me again, why do we celebrate the Fourth of July?

  2. DTJ,

    It is not uncommon at all for countries to limit the ownership position that foreign companies may hold in their domestic operations or properties. Look at Australia for an example.

    My only question is why is a Chinese company doing this instead of an American company?

    It certainly isn't because of lack of capital. I think three trillion dollars is the number that has been tossed about as the amount that American industries are holding as cash reserves.

    My point is that if this is the beginning of a trend then we are heading back into economic colonialism.

    And for the record, my wife and I do our best to never shop at Wal-Mart or buy imported goods. But it simply can't be avoided in many circumstances. (And if you want a real shock check the country of origin on some of the meat you buy at Albertson's. I still don't understand how Danish baby back ribs are 50 cents cheaper per pound than the US pork is that I buy at Smith's.)

  3. "I'm not a big news guy," so says one perosn interviewed. Well, I'll bet he knows about the Casey Anthony trial, something that doesn't affect his life in any way, shape or form. However, when it comes to things that do, he's ignorant. Is this anecdotal piece of news a peek into the future of America? Citizens more interested in tabloid trash then the things that really affect their lives? I'm afraid so.

  4. Hey Jaun needs a job ! I'l work for less, in fact I'll work less !

  5. I wish I could figure this one out. A large chunk of "stimulus money" was paid to a solar panel manufacturer up in the North East and shortly after news broke that they were shipping to China, jobs etc. Now it is economically attractive to set up 5400 acres for solar panels and a factory in Southern Nevada. Something smells.

  6. Foreign companies have been building factories in the United States for years. Toyota, Honda, Nissan all have plants in Tennessee. There are 100's of others around the United States now.

    This company is stepping up to build a big plant making something we need right here in Nevada and the United States. They are offering good wages.

    The money is flowing back into the United States instead of out of it so what is the problem?

    Everyone wants to pin the "China" buying on Walmart. They came to the market late by buying from China. How about W.T. Grants? Woolworth? Montgomery Wards? Sears? Kmart? Target? That is just a few that did and still does a lot of importing but I guess it was not popular to complain about it then.

    No "American" company is offering to build this plant and provide the jobs so that is pretty much a moot point in this conversation.

  7. The other day I was accused of helping Korea by owning a Hyundai. I actually had to prove to this person that the car was built in America by Americans, Yeah Hyundai spent 1.8 Billion Dollars 5 miles south of Montgomery Alabama in a little town called Hope Hull.
    That's Americans manufacturing cars not for Koreans but for the stock holders of Hyundai.

    The American companies are sitting on there cash for one reason and that's to get a better deal.

    Is the owner of Fox a foreigner? just asking.

  8. Am american company could not outbid a company from china. Our manufacturing laws tax laws and unions have squeezed this type of work out of the country. Not to mention the epa.

  9. Nevada needs economic diversification in the worst way.

    Let the solar, wind, geothermal, and trash to energy power generation plants and industries fill Nevada! There is plenty of room to do this, and we have the workforce, some may need retooling/reeducation, but that is fine, as it also supports education.

    This is a nice start, keep it coming, but also do it in a responsible way.

  10. Solar that is installed on rooftops is way better for the economy in the long run. It is more efficient. It pays for itself in a short time. It will help charge electric vehicles. Using taxpayer money to finance a solar farm is just plain wrong. Low income, senior and the disabled population should be given the opportunity to have solar installed on their homes. Having the extra $300 to $400 a month added to their income (via no power bill) will help them with their long term situation.

    The jobs created by a solar farm are mostly temporary and who wants another monopoly utility charging residents for power that is made from free sunlight.