By Gary Nelson and Ryan Randazzo
The Arizona Republic
Eighteen months ago, Mesa was walking on sunshine, poised to become a world leader in the solar industry.
Tempe-based First Solar Inc. had just announced it would build a 1.3 million-square-foot factory on the northeast corner of the former General Motors Desert Proving Ground.
If things went well, solar-panel production would begin there early this year, and there was talk of the company expanding its campus with three more factories as big as the first, eventually employing 4,800 people.
Alas, the champagne glasses were barely dry when troubles in the global solar market cast heavy clouds over the Mesa facility.
First Solar did station about 110 employees there. And last week the company announced it had moved its global operations center — a NASA-like room that monitors and controls solar generating stations all over the world — into the factory.
But production never began, and now there are questions about whether it ever will.
A First Solar executive told Mayor Scott Smith at an Arizona solar summit this month that the company will seek a tenant for about half of the Mesa factory. She then relayed the gist of that conversation in an e-mail to other city officials, which The Republic obtained through a state open records law request.