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ALBUQUERQUE-Just as Silicon Valley has become synonymous withthe computer industry, the developers of Mesa del Sol hope theproject name will become synonymous with the renewable energyindustry. So far, two solar panel manufacturers have chosen tolocate in the 12,900-acre mixed-use development near theAlbuquerque airport, and negotiations are in progress withothers.

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The newest company to sign is Schott AG. The glass and opticsmanufacturer from Mainz, Germany just announced plans to build a200,000-sf factory at the site for its subsidiary Schott Solar Inc.Advent Solar Inc., a business spawned at the University of NewMexico's Manufacturing Technology and Training Center, became thedevelopment's first alternative-energy tenant when it opened an87,000-sf factory there in 2006. A 2,800-acre solar energy researchcenter is in planning.

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According to Mesa del Sol president Michael Daly, landing Schottputs the development at the center of the solar energy radarscreen. "When the world leader in solar manufacturing looks at 15different US cities and several other countries and settles on yourdevelopment, that's big news," he declares.

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Mesa del Sol is a public-private endeavor led by a joint ventureof Cleveland's Forest City Enterprises Inc. and Covington CapitalCorp. of Santa Monica, CA. The New Mexico State Land Office andUniversity of New Mexico each hold a 15% interest. The City ofAlbuquerque, Bernalillo County and the State of New Mexico arecontributing financially. The overall development will includeresidential, commercial, entertainment, cultural and recreationaluses. It will have 18 million sf of commercial space, of whichabout eight million sf will be industrial, primarily tech/flex.

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When Forest City and Covington were awarded development rightsfor the project, Daly says they opted to create clusters builtaround a few key industries. "We had done this before on ForestCity projects, and it worked out very well," he tells GlobeSt.com.He calls it a "rifle approach rather than a shotgun."

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Solar energy seemed a logical cluster choice for Mesa del Solbecause the state is a leader in environmental sustainability, hasa skilled labor force with experience in semiconductor productionand, of course, gets lots of sun. In addition, says Daly, becauseof the sunny weather, the surrounding Southwest will likely providethe nation's biggest market for solar panels, making Albuquerque anideal distribution point.

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Daly also notes that Sandia Research Laboratories, located fivemiles away, is the global leader in solar research. "Almost everysolar panel manufacturer in the world tests their products atSandia," he points out. The University of New Mexico is also at theforefront of alternative energy research, he says.

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To land Sandia, Daly recounts, the marketing team canvassed theworld to pitch renewable energy companies. They emphasized thebenefits of locating in a community of like-minded researchers anda state, county and city that support environmental advancesthrough grants, tax breaks and infrastructure assistance. Whileland and development costs are comparable to other areas recruitingsimilar firms, Daly says operation, labor and utility costs arelower. Another major attraction, he adds, is ample land forexpansion.

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Other clusters being courted at Mesa del Sol includeentertainment, with six soundstages available for film production,and defense. Daly notes that Sandia and Los Alamos Laboratories, 60miles north, receive billions of dollars of government contractsannually and have a mandate to encourage commercial development oftechnologies created there.

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