Proterra makes summer plans

Production set to being in July

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For electric bus manufacturer Proterra, July will be a big – and busy – month.

That’s when the Golden, Colo.-based company will begin assembling buses at a temporary facility in the old Orders flooring building on Whitlee Court off Interstate 85 near Laurens Road in Greenville.

July is also when the company expects to break ground for its permanent manufacturing facility at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research.

The company is expected to spend $68 million and create 1,300 jobs.

The first 10 employees hired to work in the Greenville facility are building their first bus now in Golden, Colo., where they’ve been training since the beginning of May, said Marc Gottschalk, Proterra’s chief business development officer and general counsel.

The employees are managers and assembly workers, he said.

Those employees will return to Greenville at the end of June and will train other local workers on production techniques, Gottschalk said.

The company’s goal is to have 70 employees by the end of the year, Gottschalk said. It expects to have about 300 employees by the first anniversary of the plant’s opening.

As part of the incentives promised the company for choosing Greenville instead of Ohio, the city of Greenville will pay Smith Development Co. for the company’s lease on Whitlee Court for one year. It will cost the city $271,350.

Proterra had to close on a $20 million private equity investment in the company to qualify for the incentive. The company did that on May 13, according to a resolution passed by Greenville City Council on Monday.

Equipment for the company’s 90,000-square-foot temporary plant should begin arriving on July 1 and should take a couple of weeks to install, Gottschalk said.

The company expects some of its Golden, Colo., employees to move to Greenville for jobs, he said.

“We were pleasantly surprised about the number of employees who want to come to Greenville,” he said. “You always think nobody will want to move because their kids go to school there or their spouses have jobs there. But a number of employees are enthusiastic. They want to come out.”

Proterra was formed in 2004 by Dale Hill, a mechanical engineer with a 35-year career in designing vehicles to run on alternative fuels. The company was called Mobile Energy Solutions, but changed its name to Proterra, which means “for the earth” in Latin.

Proterra designs and manufactures a patented clean transit technology for buses and trucks. The company’s buses cost $1 million – about twice the cost of a diesel bus – but it saves money in the long run on fuel costs.

The company began looking for a new manufacturing site last summer. It wanted an East Coast facility because that’s where most of its clients are located.

Four years ago, the Federal Transit Administration selected Proterra to help lead a $13.1 million demonstration of hybrid-electric hydrogen fuel cell buses in Alabama, Connecticut and South Carolina.

One of the buses was used in downtown Columbia and at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The company’s battery electric bus gets the equivalent of 17 miles per gallon of diesel.

The state’s commitment to hydrogen research is created for playing a part in landing the company. Officials expect additional jobs from spin-off companies.

Michael Kerski, the economic development manager for Greenville, told city council members the company expects to build between eight and 10 buses at the temporary facility.

“When the company is in its building at CU-ICAR, there will be no delay,” he said.

The resolution passed by city council also says the city will assist the county and the state in the issuance of $7.5 million in Federal Recovery Zone Facility bonds for construction of the building on the CU-ICAR campus.

It will also assist in issuing no less than $4.5 million and as much as $7.5 million in Federal Qualified Energy bonds to manufacture demonstration and testing vehicles.

The city may use $4.5 million to buy buses from Proterra and Proterra will lease the same buses back at a cost that allows full recovery of any bond payments. The buses will serve as collateral.

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