Apple to open factory in Mesa, Ariz.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images - An attendee looks at the new Mac Pro during an Apple announcement at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Oct. 22 in San Francisco.

Apple has announced plans to open a manufacturing plant in Mesa, Ariz., creating more than 2,000 jobs amid a push by the tech giant to bring some manufacturing jobs back to the United States.

Apple did not disclose what will be made at the Mesa factory. But GT Advanced Technologies said in a statement late Monday that it had struck a $578 million deal to produce the “sapphire” material that Apple uses to protect sensors such as its phone cameras and the fingerprint reader on the iPhone 5s. The company said the work would be done in Arizona.

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Apple already uses some American suppliers, but the assembly of most of its products — including the iPhone and the iPad — is outsourced to a massive chain of factories in East Asia. The firm has faced harsh criticism about labor conditions at some suppliers’ facilities as well as pointed questions about why it hasn’t created more jobs a bit closer to home.

The tech titan first announced in December that it planned to bring some of its manufacturing back to the United States. It recently introduced Mac Pro, a $3,000 desktop computer that bears the inscription “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in the U.S.A.” It will go on sale in December.

The U.S. work on the Mac Pro represents a small portion of Apple’s supply chain, Yankee Group analyst Carl Howe said at an Apple event last month. “It’s a low-volume part, but that’s where you start,” he said.

The new plant will employ at least 700 workers at first, with more to come, according to a statement from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) late Monday. Building the plant will generate 1,300 more construction and associated jobs, the statement said.

“We are proud to expand our domestic manufacturing initiative with a new facility in Arizona, creating more than 2,000 jobs in engineering, manufacturing and construction,” Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said.

Apple’s efforts to increase its U.S. manufacturing footprint could help it politically while building up its skilled workforce in the United States, analysts have said.

Other tech companies also have launched efforts to bring high-tech production to the United States. Most notably, Google touts that its Moto X smartphone is made at a Texas facility.

Apple said the new facility will run on renewable energy and is designed to cut energy costs, earning praise from environmental groups.

“Power supply is important, but so is efficiency,” said Ralph Cavanagh, the co-director of the energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This refutes the claim that the move to a high-tech world inevitably means more environmental damage [due to] higher power needs.”

 
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