Fremont-based solar energy company Solaria wants to buck the grim trend of companies scaling back manufacturing operations in California.
The company has already been ramping up production of solar equipment at its Fremont complex, but says it needs another facility to keep up with demand.
"Ideally it'll be a California location," said Dan Shugar, the company's CEO. "That's our first choice."
Solaria wouldn't identify locations where it has begun to scout for a new complex.
But if Solaria puts the facility in California, that would provide a welcome contrast to a string of manufacturing setbacks in the state.
Perhaps the most visible jolt was the shutdown of the NUMMI automobile factory in Fremont. That idled 4,700 jobs in April 2010.
To be sure, manufacturing has been on the upswing lately. Over the most recent 12 months, California has added 15,000 factory jobs, according to figures supplied by the state's Employment Development Department.
The short-term improvement, though, can't mask the bleak picture over a longer period, the EDD figures show, with 226,500 manufacturing jobs lost over a five-year period.
California's regulatory and business climate -- criticized by some manufacturers as hostile to companies -- may have opened the door for Solaria to expand, both in Fremont and with its second factory.
Solaria cites several initiatives by the state that have encouraged the company.
Among them: Assembly Bill 32 , or the Global Warming Solutions Act, that obliges California to develop regulations to slash greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
The company also noted a state rule to require utilities and other power providers to eventually procure 33 percent of their power from renewable energy sources.
"These green initiatives and state mandates will force more use of solar and wind power units," said Bill Browne, director of client services with San Ramon-based ManEx, a consulting firm for small- and medium-sized manufacturers.
Privately held Solaria has already been adding employees locally, growing from 50 workers a year ago to 75 today.
Venture capital has also bolstered Solaria's ambitions. All told, Solaria has landed at least $117 million in VC financing.
The company uses silicon-based materials for its solar cells. But by employing an advanced semiconductor manufacturing process, Solaria has cut the costs of its solar panels.
"We would love to work with Solaria to help them expand in Fremont," said Christina Briggs, the city's economic development manager. "If they are looking to grow, we hope that happens here."
Still, manufacturing expansions are no easy task in California.
"California has higher utility costs, higher taxes, and more regulations," Browne said. "NUMMI had a $400-per-vehicle additional cost compared to other parts of the country. We are seeing steps in the right direction. But we still have a long way to go."
Contact George Avalos at 925-977-8477. Follow him at twitter.com/george_avalos.