Apple will save jobs in Arizona by repurposing sapphire factory

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Back entrance to GTAT's sapphire plant in Mesa, AZ. Photo: Buster Hein/Cult of Mac
Back entrance to GTAT's sapphire plant in Mesa, AZ. Photo: Buster Hein/Cult of Mac

Apple plans to repurpose its factory in Mesa, Arizona, following the spectacular implosion of its relationship with sapphire manufacturer GT Advanced Technologies.

A report from Bloomberg cites Mesa City Manager Christopher Brady as the source of the information. Apple, for its part, has said that it wants to focus “on preserving jobs in Arizona” and will continue to “work with state and local officials as we consider our next steps.”

The shutdown of GTA Advanced’s factory last month cost 700 people their jobs. The opening of the factory was viewed as a significant milestone in bringing Apple manufacturing back to the U.S. after relying on Asian suppliers for many years.

GTAT filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after failing to meet performance requirements, which in turn resulted in the company not receiving its final $139 million payment from Apple. The Mesa sapphire glass factory was expected to bring in over 2,000 jobs and $1 billion to the Mesa area, but after the project failed to produce any sapphire iPhone displays, Apple and GTAT reached a $439 million settlement to end all current agreements.

In the aftermath, GTAT has criticized Apple for its draconian supplier contracts.

Mesa and the state of Arizona had to fight hard to get Apple to show an interest in the 1.3 million square foot factory. Community leaders worked to fulfil Apple’s request that the facility run on 100% renewable energy, and also agreed to build a new power substation for the plant.

Apple additionally benefited from Arizona’s decision to designate the area surrounding the building a foreign trade zone — which cut potential property taxes by upwards of 70%.

While it’s great news to hear that Apple may be able to make this arrangement work, after all, it will be interesting to see exactly what the repurposed the factory will be used for. Shortly after GTAT’s collapse, it was reported that Apple had already found new sapphire suppliers in Asia.