WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is investing more than $100 million in a cutting-edge Minnesota glass company that hopes to revolutionize energy efficiency in buildings.
Sage Electrochromics of Faribault has won a $72 million federal loan guarantee for a major expansion of its manufacturing facility, where the company has developed "smart" glass for windows and skylights that reduce energy use.
The loan comes on top of $31 million in clean energy manufacturing tax credits the company received from last year's economic stimulus bill. Company CEO John Van Dine said the federal loan was being secured in part by another $20 million in private bank financing.
The $120 million expansion will provide 210 construction jobs and another 160 permanent manufacturing and technology jobs at the new plant, which will produce next-generation electronically tintable glass that adjusts to changing sunlight conditions in winter and summer.
Friday's announcement coincided with President Obama's trip to a software company in Arlington, Va., to tout his "green'' jobs goals. It also comes as Democrats in Congress have renewed their emphasis on job creation and clean energy.
"This is a perfect example of the power of the American innovation machine to create a stronger economy and a more healthy planet," U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said.
"It's a very capital-intensive industry," Van Dine said. "Without this kind of support from the federal government, it would be very difficult to get over that enabling hurdle."
According to Chu, the loan guarantee is part of the first wave of money from a largely inactive federal program that was established in 2005.
Van Dine called the loan a critical step for the company, which aspires to be a global leader in a new glass technology that goes from clear to dark, much like transition lenses in sunglasses.
The global market potential and energy savings are enormous, he said. Some 20 billion square feet of window area is installed each year in buildings worldwide.
The political significance of the loan program was underscored by the presence of the state's two Democratic U.S. senators at the formal government announcement.
In a nod to leading Minnesota window manufacturers Andersen Windows and Marvin Windows and Doors, Sen. Amy Klobuchar said, "We have a lot of successful window companies that are doing a lot with energy-efficient windows."
"Minnesota is the Silicon Valley of windows," said Sen. Al Franken. "And Sage is at the forefront of the industry."
Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.