Tesla's New York solar factory making other products in bid to boost jobs

(Reuters) - Tesla Inc on Wednesday said its solar factory in Buffalo, New York, would become the “manufacturing home” for its electric vehicle Supercharger cabinets and other energy storage products as it seeks to meet employment targets tied to state subsidies.

FILE PHOTO: A worker is seen outside the Tesla Inc. Gigafactory 2, which is also known as RiverBend, a joint venture with Panasonic to produce solar panels and roof tiles in Buffalo, New York, U.S., August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/ File Photo

The company disclosed the move in an annual report to New York state in which it said it had exceeded its jobs and investment commitments thus far. But the company must add hundreds more workers in New York to meet next year’s target.

Tesla employs 329 workers at the factory and about 300 others elsewhere in the state, the report said. It was required to have at least 500 employees in the state by April 30 of this year in exchange for $750 million in subsidies for the Buffalo facility, which is known as the RiverBend factory.

By this time next year, it must employ 1,460 workers in the state, including 500 at the factory, according to Empire State Development, the state’s economic development arm.

Tesla also said it has invested $381.9 million total in New York state as of April 30, including $179.3 million in the previous year.

“We’re committed to investing in Buffalo and the State,” Tesla said in an emailed statement.

Tesla’s manufacturing partner, Panasonic Corp, has about 400 employees at the Buffalo plant. It was not immediately clear whether those jobs are included in the count toward meeting the state targets. Panasonic manufactures solar cells and assembles panels at the factory for Tesla and others.

“We are pleased that Tesla is reporting that it has exceeded its job and investment commitments,” Pamm Lent, spokeswoman for Empire State Development, said in an emailed statement. “In the coming weeks, ESD will perform the necessary due diligence to verify the data provided by Tesla.”

Tesla’s plan to manufacture solar products in New York has come under scrutiny as the company drastically scaled back the U.S. solar business it acquired in 2016 with the $2.6 billion purchase of SolarCity.

At the time, it planned to use the factory to make a trailblazing product called the Solar Roof, an energy system meant to look like normal roof tiles. But that product has been far slower to reach the market than promised, and Panasonic is shipping most of the cells originally intended for the Solar Roof to customers overseas. Panasonic has also sought other customers for its Buffalo-made panels.

Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by James Dalgleish and Tom Brown