When Finisar Corp. announced last month that it would begin producing vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers for Apple at its new Sherman facility later this year, it did so without any local incentives in place. Of course, it had been awarded $390 million by Apple to increase the development and production of VCSEL arrays, but it had no formal agreements in place with any local entities.
Sherman Economic Development Corp. President John Plotnik said incentives had not even been discussed by the SEDCO board when Finisar made its expansion announcement, but he couldn’t imagine a scenario where the company doesn’t get local incentives.
“I could see grant money from SEDCO and I could see property abatements from the taxes from the city and the county,” Plotnik said. “Workforce Solutions (Texoma) here in town under Janie Bates, they can offer $1,850 for every new job for training and recruitment.”
The award from Apple’s Advanced Manufacturing Fund is part of technology giant’s commitment to invest $1 billion with U.S.-based companies in order to foster innovative production and high-skilled jobs. Apple Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams was also on hand in Sherman last month for Finisar’s announcement of its plans for the former MEMC building it purchased last year.
VCSELs are small semiconductor devices that emit light vertically and measure the depth at which that light is reflected. That depth-sensing technology helps power Apple product features such as Face ID, Animoji, portrait mode selfies and proximity-sensing capabilities.
Plotnik said SEDCO first met with Finisar in November 2015, more than two years before the company announced it would create 500 new high-skill jobs in Sherman as part of a more than $100 million capital investment that will see the company manufacturing VCSELs for Apple and its iPhone products in the former MEMC building. The SEDCO manager said the Finisar announcement was originally scheduled for January, but that timetable was moved up in early December.
Plotnik said incentives from SEDCO could come as soon as next month, explaining once the corporation gets an application for incentives, which includes jobs, wages and investment, SEDCO does an analysis to the benefit coming to the city of Sherman and can make a proposal that would include a bundle of the various incentives for Finisar to review.
“If it’s agreed, then we do an operating agreement, which their lawyers will have to review,” Plotnik said. “We’ve done incentives in a 10-day period, but with a company this size, with a legal staff of such, I suspect it’ll be a bit longer.”
Sherman City Manager Robby Hefton said the city received a tax abatement application from Finisar earlier this month and it indicates the company is already planning beyond the 500 employees it announced it would hire.
“Their number was 587 (employees) and experience tells me people are conservative with their numbers,” Hefton said. “I’m rounding that to 600 and saying it’s going to be 600 plus (employees).”
Hefton said the addition of Finisar as a Sherman entity will contribute to the city across the board.
“Their taxable investment of real and personal property equipment and bricks and sticks is going to be significant,” Hefton said. “The impact that their hundreds of employees will have investing here in Sherman, buying houses, renting houses, building houses is going to be significant. But even maybe more importantly, the multiplier effect of having a primary employer here and the other two or three or four multiplier of jobs that happen because of that is going to be incredible.”
Hefton said he assured Finisar and Apple executives that the city would work with them from a permitting standpoint and in providing services to make sure they meet the deadlines of operation they’ve set. Former Finisar Chief Executive Officer Jerry S. Rawls said last month the company expects its new Sherman location to be producing VCSEL arrays by the second half of 2018.
“We’re trying to buckle up our seat belts here and we’re going to try to help remove whatever obstacles there may be for the type of quality growth that we’re going to see and that are going to be expected by the fine folks at Apple and Finisar,” Hefton said. “We’re committed to that. I’ve committed to that to them directly and they seem very appreciative that as a community we’re willing to partner with them and be part of the success of them opening when they need to.”
In addition to the benefits for Sherman, county officials believe Finisar will impact the entire county.
“This is the gateway to our industrial community — you’re going to have a shining vibrant facility in front,” Grayson County Judge Bill Magers said. “It’s going to be a situation where job creation, tax base — it’s going to be a game-changer. It’s as big as (the) Panda (power plant) is, with a lot more jobs. It’s going to impact everyone here.”