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I-Team: Scrutinizing job pledges at Tesla plant after Panasonic pulls out

Tesla says it has met goals
Posted at 4:22 PM, Feb 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-26 18:20:16-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Despite the impending loss of more than 400 Panasonic jobs from the Tesla Gigafactory, elected leaders said Wednesday that Tesla has assured them that the company is still on track to meet the job requirements by April put in place by New York State.

In exchange for its use of the $750 million factory in South Buffalo -- paid for with public money -- Tesla is required to create 1,500 jobs by April.

On Feb. 7, Mayor Byron W. Brown announced after a tour of the factory that "over 1,100 people have been hired."

Late Monday, state development chief Howard Zemsky said Tesla has told him it has "more than 1,500 jobs in Buffalo," and Brown stated Monday that Tesla said it has met the hiring requirement.

That means the company would have had to hire about 400 employees in just 19 days.

Zemsky’s statement also said the loss of the 400-plus Panasonic jobs has "no bearing on Tesla's current operations..."

The 7 Eyewitness News I-Team asked the mayor how that could be the case.

“How is that even possible? Weren't those 400 people doing something to help Tesla in their operations?”

“Those 400 people were providing components for the Tesla solar products. It's our understanding that they will still provide those components, they just will not be manufacturing them at the Buffalo plant.”

The I-Team has not been able to verify whether Panasonic will indeed keep making those products at other sites for use by Tesla.

It has only been a few years since Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo cut the ribbon on the former Republic Steel site known as Riverbend, but already four different companies have been involved.

In 2013, Cuomo announced that solar companies Soraa and Silevo would relocate to South Buffalo, investing $1.5 billion and creating more than 800 jobs.

But Soraa pulled out of the project before it was built, and Silevo was bought by SolarCity in 2014.

Two years later, SolarCity merged with Tesla. Panasonic entered the project three years ago, but is already pulling up stakes.

The I-Team asked the mayor whether all of the turnover bothers him.

“Is it frustrating to you at all that this industry, the tech industry, is so fluid and maybe not as permanent as, say the steel industry or manufacturing, something like that?”

“Certainly, the solar industry has shown some fluidity. The good news is that Panasonic is going to provide for the rehiring of its employees with a number of different options and services they will provide.”