National Scooter Co. lone new company struggling to produce

The recent news from Pflugerville city officials that Panasonic Corp., a Fortune 500 company, was stepping in to co-develop the Pflugerville solar farm has cast new light on the city's big bet that green energy can carry Pflugerville's economy into the future.

The solar farm may be the marquee attraction of the environmentally friendly economy, but the city has made a point to try and attract a number of green energy companies as part of its economic strategy.

"People love San Francisco, but they know that all the talent lives right next door in San Jose [Silicon Valley]. Pflugerville can be the San Jose of Austin," said Floyd Akers, executive director of the Pflugerville Community Development Corp. "We can be the renewable energy center of the world."

The companies that have already committed have had a range of success so far, from the heights of the Panasonic solar deal to the financial troubles of National Scooter Co.

RRE Austin Solar LLC

Since its creation in 2010, RRE Austin Solar LLC has been working to open the $200 million Pflugerville solar farm project, located in the city's extraterritorial jurisdiction on Manda Carlson Road.

The project sat idle for more than a year as RRE hit several dead ends trying to find a major buyer for the electrical power the solar farm would produce. Officials attribute this to "volatile market conditions," a long sales process and purchasing the land before having a buyer for the power.

"That's no indication that we are behind the curve," project manager Valerie Harkins said.

The project was reignited in early February when Pflugerville Mayor Jeff Coleman announced that Panasonic—one of the world's largest electronics manufacturers—would be joining RRE in developing the solar farm.

Officials from Panasonic declined comment, saying they would neither confirm nor deny the announcement.

Start of construction has been set for June, and Akers said he expects the solar farm will be operational in June 2013.

RRE expects to create 20 permanent office management, clerical, project and business development positions.

Renewable Resource Consultants

The newly formed Renewable Property Group LLC, an affiliate of Round Rock–based Renewable Resource Consultants, recently bought 6 acres within Pflugerville Renewable Energy Park for $600,000.

The company will start off with 4,000 square feet of office space for Renewable Resource Consultants, a firm that oversees the design and construction of foundations for the wind turbine industry.

Since opening its doors in 2007, Renewable Resource Consultants' revenue has almost tripled and grown from four to 55 employees.

The firm expects to continue growing by adding 10 to 20 employees to the Pflugerville office within two years and another two to five employees each following year.

Community Cars Inc.

Community Cars Inc., which moved into its Pflugerville headquarters last October, has 16 full-time employees and two part-time employees.

Austin lawyer Stacy Zoern founded Community Cars in 2010 and merged it with struggling company Kenguru Services, then based in Hungary.

Zoern predicts the company will employ 30 people by the end of 2012, 50 people by the end of 2013 and 100 people in five years.

Since unveiling the first Kenguru in January, Community Cars has produced five cars, four of which will be shipped to its French distributor.

Based on the company's production schedule for the next few years, Zoern expects to sell 200 cars in 2012 and 5,000 in five years.

National Scooter Co.

Greg James, the CEO of National Scooter Co. has faced financial troubles recently in Pflugerville, just as he did in the company's previous location in Nacogdoches, Texas.

Nacogdoches City Manager Jim Jeffers said James still owes the city $130,000 for a loan issued to Southwest Scooter Co. LLC, a retail store formerly in Nacogdoches.

According to an article published in The Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel on Nov. 28, 2011, a settlement agreement between the City of Nacogdoches and James for the repayment of a $180,000 loan was taken off the table.

"The market wouldn't support that kind of retail in Nacogdoches. That business closed," James said.

At his investors' suggestion, James shifted his focus from retail to manufacturing and assembly and relocated to Pflugerville.

"We recognize if he's successful in Pflugerville, that's good for us because it increases our probability of recouping the money he owes," Jeffers said.

Recently, James was forced to shut down National Scooter Co. in Pflugerville for seven months due to a sluggish economy and to negotiate a new agreement with PCDC to avoid a breach of contract lawsuit.

National Scooter Co. plans to reopen in August. It will then have 24 months to hire 32 employees or repay $130,000 in tax breaks that PCDC provided when the company moved to its Pflugerville location.

James said the jobs will include product design, quality control, assembly, warehouse, outside sales, Internet sales, office and other positions.

Sweetwater, Texas

Sweetwater, Texas, has bet on renewable energy to charge its economy in much the same way Pflugerville has.

Sweetwater focused its economy on renewable wind energy.

A renewable energy park was built between Abilene and Sweetwater consisting of 100 turbines that could produce 100 megawatts of output.

At the height of construction in 2008, more than 1,000 people were employed in the wind energy industry in Nolan County.

A tax abatement policy helped increase the county's taxable evaluation from $500 million in 1999 to $2.8 billion in early 2009.

In November 2011, Sweetwater received the Growing Green Award from the Texas Engineering Extension Service and the U.S. Dept. of Commerce Economic Development Administration. The city received the award for growing its economy through renewable wind industry.

Source: Ken Becker, executive director of Sweetwater Enterprise for Economic Development; City of Sweetwater documents; PCDC