Monolith Solar builds $4.9M headquarters at Vista Tech Park

A blueprint for the future: Started in 2008, Monolith Solar is now the fourth largest solar contractor in New York State. 

SLINGERLANDS – Ground has been broken; the foundation poured.

When complete, Monolith Solar’s current operations in its Rensselaer offices and in an Albany warehouse will be consolidated in one site at the Vista Technology Campus, which straddles New Scotland and Bethlehem. The site will include a new 16,000-square-foot headquarters and 10,000-square-foot research-and-development and manufacturing facility (Monolith does not make solar panels; rather, it sells systems, of which panels are one component).

Michael Hickey, Monolith’s chief executive officer, says he was told by BBL, the project’s general contractor, that the new $4.9 million facility would be complete by the end of October.

The project, according to Monolith, will add 76 new jobs to the company’s already-existing 49. Hickey said there will be new jobs in the warehouse, in manufacturing, and in field installation, which, in turn, will create new administrative and sales positions. “So it’s really the whole ball of wax,” he said.

In the works since 2014, the project was delayed as the company struggled to get a builder’s loan for its new headquarters. In early May, Monolith secured $4 million in financing from Pioneer Savings Bank, according to Albany County records. One loan was for $3,040,000; the other for $960,000.

Hickey, who has been CEO since September 2017, said that the protracted loan-approval process had been a “bandwidth issue.” With credit limits placed on the company, it had chosen to use its previous partner-banks’ funds to finance projects that would generate revenue for Monolith for the next 20 years rather than financing just a building, Hickey said.

Monolith has grown about 54 percent each year since its inception, in 2008, Hickey said, and the past two years have been ever better. The company was recently listed by Solar Power World Magazine as the fourth largest solar contractor in New York State; nationwide, it’s 85th.

Thomas Connolly, the executive director of the Bethlehem Industrial Development Agency, said that Monolith received a mortgage tax exemption through the IDA; sales-tax exemptions on construction materials for its new building as well as an exemption for the equipment that will fill the building; and an assessment exemption.

Connolly could not remember the monetary value of Monolith’s incentive package, it had been approved three or four years ago, he said. It has been reported elsewhere that the IDA had approved $680,000 in tax breaks.

Handing out tax breaks to a successful company has been panned by liberal and libertarian economists alike, but continues unabated nonetheless.

It’s typical, Hickey said, stating that there is always competition among cities and towns to land a company, especially one in a growth sector, like technology.

It’s bad economics, but great politics, analysts say.

What can happen is that municipalities engage one another in an economic arms race, “to the point of giving away more than the value of the new firm or facility,” according to a brief by Cynthia L. Rogers, an economics professor from the University of Oklahoma.

The recent competition to land Amazon’s second headquarters had cities and states lining up to give the country’s ninth-largest company billions in tax breaks.

The Capital Region’s bid did not include a specific dollar figure, but a letter from Andrew Kennedy, president and CEO of the Center for Economic Growth, to Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, said that GlobalFoundries was given a $1.2 billion incentive package, “encompassing both direct support and tax abatement.” Maryland offered $8.5 billion in tax breaks and subsidies, the largest incentive package in nation.

“Officials feel they must offer incentives, because failing to compete to attract businesses will be interpreted as evidence that their locality is not business-friendly,” writes Rogers. “States and localities will therefore continue to compete.”

But Bethlehem’s Connolly has found that an incentive in the beginning, works out for the town in the end. And the town’s incentives are on a much smaller scale, he points out.

Not too long ago, the Monolith site was vacant, which doesn’t produce a lot of real-estate taxes, Connolly said, but when Monolith is finished, there will be $5 million of new investment in Bethlehem that can be taxed.

And there are consequences if a company fails to keep up its side of the bargain, Connolly said. For example, if a company fails to meet a target number for new jobs, which happened about 16 years ago, Connolly said, “we did a clawback” and got back about $50,000 in benefits.

Hickey was not with Monolith when the decision was made to build in Bethlehem, but he said that incentives do help make projects work. “It’s almost like the whole solar industry, right?” Hickey said. “Incentives from the state of New York help make projects pencil out as profitable; you take those out, and projects aren’t as profitable.”

In February 2017, the governor’s office announced that the state-supported solar industry had grown nearly 800 percent since 2011, with 64,926 projects installed through the end of 2016, compared with 9,079 through the end of 2011.

“I think [New York State] is interested in keeping New York businesses in New York,” Hickey said. “Then, certainly, once you get into a region,” each region would like to have a growing business in their local city, town, or village.


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