In its latest bid to survive, SoloPower says it will move its headquarters to Oregon and is in talks to build a South Korean hub.
Friday's developments raise a number of questions about the troubled startup's future in Oregon, where millions of taxpayer dollars are staked in the company's North Portland factory.
State officials say SoloPower came through this week with its required payment on a $10 million loan. But layoffs set for June 17 will claim what's left of the company's workforce, grinding production to a halt.
"That would be the worst-case scenario," chief executive Rob Campbell said Friday.
He hopes, instead, to avoid the 62 layoffs the company disclosed in April and keep the manufacturing line operating, he said.
SoloPower will shift most functions from its Silicon Valley base to Portland, Campbell confirmed. New investors, he said, could carry the company through "this rough patch." He declined to detail how, or when, that might happen.
Asian investors appear to be main players.
Media reports have detailed plans to build a factory and research and development arm in South Korea. The Korea Herald identified CTI, Ltd., as SoloPower's main partner.
CTI lists a 2012 manufacturing venture with SoloPower in the company history section of its English-language website. It also advertises SoloPower's flexible CIGS solar panels under the "Products" tab on its website.
Campbell declined to identify the investors, but said that South Korea is part of SoloPower's long-term plans. "We've been really looking at all opportunities for investment." He maintained that the development would not threaten domestic jobs, calling the Oregon factory an "essential part of our going forward strategy."
SoloPower's Portland employees have petitioned the U.S. Labor Department for sweeping federal jobless benefits, given to those who lose jobs as a result of foreign competition. Investigators haven't yet ruled on the case.
It's also unclear what equity stake the South Korean company would take, and whether that would violate the terms of Oregon's agreements with the company. SoloPower also received a $20 million state tax credit, in addition to the $10 million Energy Department loan.
Enright confirmed that SoloPower sent $116,650 to the department Wednesday, one day before the principal and interest payment came due. The June installment was more than double the amount due in past months, because SoloPower is beginning to pay down principal, she said.
Portland guaranteed half of that loan in 2011, as part of a bid to win the proposed $340 million factory and the 450 jobs it would provide. The company never came close to staffing and production benchmarks.
Terms of the loan allow the state to foreclose on the equipment should SoloPower default. A May auction in San Jose, Calif., attracted little interest for the company's highest-dollar, most specialized equipment.