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Panasonic ramping up hiring at RiverBend with 80 new positions

Panasonic is looking to hire another 80 workers at its portion of the Tesla solar panel factory.

The company, which began making solar modules at the sprawling RiverBend factory late last summer, is continuing to expand its production of the solar cells that are used in solar panels, a spokesman said. Each solar module is a grouping of several solar cells.

Panasonic, which had more than 300 people working at the factory by the end of last year, said most of the new hires will be for production workers for its solar cell manufacturing operations.

"We will have some machine technician positions and a few engineers in there as well," said Terry VanEpps, Panasonic's talent acquisition manager in Buffalo.

To find workers for its growing operations, Panasonic is holding a career fair from 5 to 8 p.m. on June 13 in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.

The job fair, which follows similar sessions that drew long lines of applicants this summer and dozens more candidates in December, will include a company presentation and interviews during sessions that will begin every 30 minutes, starting at 5:30 p.m.

Panasonic, which has openings listed for eight types of jobs on its website, said it is seeking production and manufacturing operators for its solar cell and solar panel production lines, along with electrical and mechanical technicians and process engineers.

Candidates can register for the job fair and upload a resume in advance.

The Panasonic job fair follows a series of information sessions that Tesla held last month as it starts making its solar roofing panels at the Buffalo factory. The solar roof, which looks like a conventional roof but has solar cells inside, is expected to be Tesla's main product at its portion of the RiverBend factory, which was built and equipped by the state with $750 million in taxpayer money as the centerpiece project of the Buffalo Billion.

While Tesla said it has started making its solar roof in Buffalo, it has not provided any details on how many have been produced. The company, in a letter to shareholders earlier this month, said it expects production of its new solar roofing panels at its Buffalo gigafactory to “accelerate significantly” during the second half of the year.

The company views the solar roof as a key product that will help increase its solar installations and open the door to a new group of potential customers.

Tesla previously has said total employment at the Buffalo factory now exceeds 500 people, but most of that is from Panasonic.

The ramp of the solar roof comes as Tesla’s solar energy installations dropped to their lowest level in more than four years during the first quarter. It installed 76 megawatts of solar energy generating capacity – a little more than half of the 150 megawatts of generating capacity it installed during the first quarter of last year.

Tesla said the decline, which has been going on ever since the company acquired SolarCity in November 2016, is part of a “strategic decision” to move away from door-to-door sales, de-emphasize less profitable commercial solar projects and put more of a focus on cash sales to consumers, rather than the no-money-down leasing models that SolarCity used.

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