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ALBUQUERQUE-Just as Silicon Valley has become synonymous with the computer industry, the developers of Mesa del Sol hope the project name will become synonymous with the renewable energy industry. So far, two solar panel manufacturers have chosen to locate in the 12,900-acre mixed-use development near the Albuquerque airport, and negotiations are in progress with others.

The newest company to sign is Schott AG. The glass and optics manufacturer from Mainz, Germany just announced plans to build a 200,000-sf factory at the site for its subsidiary Schott Solar Inc. Advent Solar Inc., a business spawned at the University of New Mexico’s Manufacturing Technology and Training Center, became the development’s first alternative-energy tenant when it opened an 87,000-sf factory there in 2006. A 2,800-acre solar energy research center is in planning.

According to Mesa del Sol president Michael Daly, landing Schott puts the development at the center of the solar energy radar screen. “When the world leader in solar manufacturing looks at 15 different US cities and several other countries and settles on your development, that’s big news,” he declares.

Mesa del Sol is a public-private endeavor led by a joint venture of Cleveland’s Forest City Enterprises Inc. and Covington Capital Corp. of Santa Monica, CA. The New Mexico State Land Office and University of New Mexico each hold a 15% interest. The City of Albuquerque, Bernalillo County and the State of New Mexico are contributing financially. The overall development will include residential, commercial, entertainment, cultural and recreational uses. It will have 18 million sf of commercial space, of which about eight million sf will be industrial, primarily tech/flex.

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

Solar energy seemed a logical cluster choice for Mesa del Sol because the state is a leader in environmental sustainability, has a skilled labor force with experience in semiconductor production and, of course, gets lots of sun. In addition, says Daly, because of the sunny weather, the surrounding Southwest will likely provide the nation’s biggest market for solar panels, making Albuquerque an ideal distribution point.

Daly also notes that Sandia Research Laboratories, located five miles away, is the global leader in solar research. “Almost every solar panel manufacturer in the world tests their products at Sandia,” he points out. The University of New Mexico is also at the forefront of alternative energy research, he says.

To land Sandia, Daly recounts, the marketing team canvassed the world to pitch renewable energy companies. They emphasized the benefits of locating in a community of like-minded researchers and a state, county and city that support environmental advances through grants, tax breaks and infrastructure assistance. While land and development costs are comparable to other areas recruiting similar firms, Daly says operation, labor and utility costs are lower. Another major attraction, he adds, is ample land for expansion.

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

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