After six months of work preparing the former MEMC building, Finisar Corp.’s Sherman facility is ready to begin production.

Finisar held a ribbon cutting ceremony Monday for its new facility featuring company executives and local officials, including Grayson County Judge Bill Magers, Sherman Mayor David Plyler, Sherman Economic Development Corp. board Chairman John Sild and U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe. Finisar Chief Executive Officer Michael Hurlston said the company’s production of vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers will open new opportunities for the manufacturer.

“The company is moving from a great history to a new set of things that we’re trying to do,” Hurlston said. “But the main thing today is we’re open for business in Sherman, and we expect to be hiring and bringing jobs to the local community.”

Finisar announced in December that it would hire 500 new employees to expand its production of VCSELs at its new Sherman facility this year to help meet Apple’s demand for the technology in its iPhone line of products. 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 facial recognition, portrait mode selfies and proximity-sensing capabilities.

Jeff Brown, general manager and vice president of Finisar Sherman, said the company has invested about $150 million in the local facility since beginning construction in January.

“Many people told me this was an impossible task,” Brown said of getting the facility ready for production so quickly. “I challenge that assumption. We’ve put together a really strong team to get that done. We’ve got about 200 folks as part of the Sherman organization, so that’s really allowed us to make a tremendous amount of progress. We’re planning to send out customer samples in late summer and that would put us to be on track for being in production in our fiscal Q3 (third quarter of the fiscal year).”

New markets

Julie Eng, executive vice president and general manager of Finisar’s 3-D Sensing business, said in addition to smartphone applications, VCSELs could soon be put to use inside and outside vehicles, in medical and manufacturing, and even in vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers.

“I think the amount of applications are actually — we don’t even know what they all are yet, but what we do know is they all require VCSELs, and we’re an expert in VCSELs,” Eng said. “So we’re happy to increase our capacity to serve these new markets and new customers.”

Sild told the crowd of nearly 100, which included Finisar employees and a number of local officials, SEDCO is excited to have a new owner of the long-vacant MEMC building and will support the company in its future endeavors.

“On behalf of the board and the staff of the Sherman Economic Development Corp., thank you for your contribution, thank you for your partnership,” Sild said. “We are proud to call Finisar a corporate citizen of Sherman and look forward to working on future expansions as you fill this big building.”

When he spoke, Magers said there’s been a lot of excitement in the region since Finisar made its announcement last year, something he calls “the Finisar effect.” As evidence of that, he said there are more homebuilders that do business on a national market interested in Sherman and Grayson County than ever before.

“Activity breeds results and when we have success, it’s a rippling effect,” Magers said before turning to the Finisar executives. “So I think the next step — get those ancillary suppliers moving in here guys. We need some of those guys. We’ve got plenty of room. Let’s make it happen.”

The county judge said Finisar is having an impact throughout Grayson County.

“It is not an overstatement to say Finisar is something to bring our community together,” Magers said. “They’re making our community a better place to live and that’s what it’s all about. We’re so glad to have you all.”

Local incentives

Though the company has only been in the region for the last six month, Plyler said Finisar has already proven itself to be a “fantastic corporate citizen” in Sherman.

“And for our part, the city of Sherman and Grayson County has stepped up to the plate and put together an incentive package to ensure that Finisar has the financial tools that they need to be successful here for decades to come,” Plyler said. “It’s projects like these that really help restore one’s faith in local government.”

In March, the SEDCO board approved a $1 million incentive for Finisar. SEDCO will provide Finisar four payments of $250,000 each over a two-year period as the electronic components manufacturer invests $160 million in capital equipment and construction in its Sherman facility.

The incentive agreement states the first $250,000 payment will be made after Finisar provides documentation of a local investment of at least $40 million. The three other payments will come when the company’s investment reaches $80 million, $120 million and $160 million, though each payment will also be at least six months apart.

That same month, the Sherman City Council unanimously approved a 10-year tax abatement and a five-year Chapter 380 tax rebate agreement for Finisar. City staff estimated the tax abatement agreement would save the company around $3.3 million in property taxes, and the tax rebate agreement would save it around $1.2 million.

The 10-year tax abatement agreement will give Finisar a 60 percent tax abatement for each of the first three years, a 55 percent abatement for each of the following three years and a 50 percent abatement for the final four years of the agreement. The five-year tax rebate agreement will see the city giving a grant back to Finisar after its full tax bill is paid in years 11 through 15. The grants will be for 45 percent of the taxes paid in each of the first two years of the agreement, 40 percent for the third and fourth years and 35 percent for the final year.

In April, the Grayson County Commissioners Court approved a 10-year tax abatement agreement and five-year tax rebate agreement for Finisar that matched the terms of Sherman’s agreements.