Could Evergreen Solar keep its U.S. plants if it applied the new design constraints for American business?

January 15, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

A few days ago, I wrote about some new design constraints that I believe should shape corporate thinking about innovation. Today, my friend Ken Jarboe at the Athena Alliance sent me a link to this article about Evergreen Solar, a company located here in Massachusetts. This company built a manufacturing plant for solar panels in 2008, created 800 local jobs. Now, the company is closing down the plant and moving production to China. Ken asked me how this case fits into the standards I laid down. (It’s a hard question but I appreciate Ken asking it). So here goes.

First, I want to say that a big part of the story is the imbalance in the support that the Chinese government is willing to give to get the plant built there versus the support the government of Massachusetts and the U.S. is giving. I always get a kick out of this kind of argument because it demonstrates the hypocrisy we often see in American politics: taxes and government spending are bad. But if someone else’s government does it, we have no choice but to take the money. In this thinking, you get the short-term cost savings and worry about the long-term implications later.

In Evergreen’s defense, it is behaving consistent with the current mindset of the stock market and the still-dominant although highly discredited (see comments by Warren Buffett and Jack Welch) approach to maximizing shareholder value that we still accept as gospel–over the last thirty years, the concept of value somehow got to the point where short-term stock prices came to be a measure of how a company was husbanding its resources and building long-term value. Read more