A recently furloughed Connecticut solar-energy aficionado sees the potential for an even brighter career path amid the pandemic’s fallout.
James Casella, 27, of Milford, Conn., learned last month he would be furloughed from his full-time job as a sales team lead for a solar company, where he says he was making $100,000-plus a year working on commission. His game plan now, he said, is to continue applying for jobs and looking for new opportunities — and maybe even start his own company.
Casella said he was mulling launching an LLC to sell solar panels, then using the proceeds to fund a vertical-farming company — a costly venture that would involve indoor crop production in stacked layers — in the long term.
“The last financial crisis we had, a lot of very successful companies were born, and I could see the same thing happening with this,” he said. “What is it, ‘Necessity is the father of invention?’ We’ll see what happens.”
MarketWatch spoke with Casella, who said he had multiple job interviews lined up, about his employment situation. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity:
MarketWatch: How long were you at the job?
James Casella: I started in early November.
MarketWatch: How did you find out you had been furloughed?
Casella: It was Monday (March 23). I found out I was going to be on a phone call about 20 minutes before it happened. It was a Zoom ZM, -1.34% call. They told us given the current global climate and particular circumstances that we’re all in, some tough business decisions have to be made — and if you guys are on this phone call, that means that you have been furloughed.
Then they explained what furlough means; why they’re going that route rather than letting people go. They basically said, “This has nothing to do with performance …We need to furlough people in order to stay afloat, essentially.” It’s not like they shut the lights down for everything. There are still people working for the company; it’s just a bare bones crew.
We were still given health benefits — they weren’t taking those away. We weren’t getting paid, but we weren’t getting let go. They followed up with an email giving us links to unemployment for our market, all the things that we can do, information about health insurance.
MarketWatch: Do you expect to be able to go back to that job when the pandemic is over?
Casella: At some point, yes. Whether that time frame is something that I’m willing to wait for remains to be seen. I’m not panicking like I need something tomorrow, but I’m also not going to wait around for a year. If I can find something that works better for me, then I would go that route. Nothing against the company — it just sucks that I was one of the people that had to be put in this position. But you’ve got to keep moving forward, you know.
MarketWatch: Did you like your job?
Casella: Yeah, I did. I’ve been doing solar for a long time — six, seven years. I’m kind of a grandpa in the solar industry. I have a bachelor’s in environmental management and I’m currently in a master’s program for energy management, plus I have all this experience. So I love solar. I love talking about it. It’s one of my passions.
It is a stepping stone to what will hopefully be a better future for mankind. I’ve had [pictures, drawings and mockups of] solar panels on my wall of my room since I was in middle school. My friends know me as the solar guy — they have for years.
MarketWatch: What are you going to do now?
Casella: Remain optimistic. I have a couple of contacts at other companies; I’m going to float my resume out to them, and we’ll see what happens. I’m doing everything that I can to be able to pay the rent, pay the utility bills, all the essentials. Mostly I just try to keep active: I’ll work out, go for a run. I try not to change my daily routine, just because I know that can slide into getting down on yourself, and that’s not a place I want to be.
MarketWatch: What scares you the most right now?
Casella: Definitely the unknown. If there were an end in sight — if I had been put on a phone call and they’d told me, ‘We’re going to furlough you for a month and then you’ll be back’ — it would still suck, but at least then I could ration; I could have a goal. But this could theoretically go on for months and months. It’s just one of those things where you have no idea what the future holds, so I’m trying to be optimistic but also realistic, which is why I’m not saying no to other options.
MarketWatch: How much of a financial buffer do you have without a job?
Casella: [I have] savings, mutual funds, stocks, stuff like that. I’m worried, but not too worried. There are people in this situation who are far worse off than I am.
MarketWatch: What are you going to do for money now?
Casella: I’m getting some money back on my taxes; that’s going to be definitely a helpful hand. Other than that, I’m just going to be looking for jobs, either part-time or full-time if I can. And that’s pretty much all I can do — just keep trucking forward.
MarketWatch: How are you planning to pay your bills and rent?
Casella: I have money saved up in a couple of different accounts where I’ll be able to make it through to the middle of the summer without having that be an issue. I don’t plan on letting it get to that point. I’m not one to stay out of work, so if I can get a job someplace else not necessarily in my field, I’ll do that.
MarketWatch: What kinds of jobs would you be willing to take? Unwilling?
Casella: I’d be willing to take anything that pays reasonably well. I know there’s a need in places like Target TGT, +2.57%, Walmart WMT, +3.08%, Costco COST, +3.14%. That’s a little bit of a higher risk there, but there is work available. If it really came down to it, that’s what I would do.
I probably won’t be looking for a similar position to mine in another solar company because I’m technically still employed [by] the company that I work for. There’s something to be said about loyalty, right?
MarketWatch: Have you applied for unemployment benefits? If so, what is the status of your application?
Casella: I got my tax return back and I got my text saying my unemployment has been processed. So now I have to update my unemployment filing every week, and I should be getting a check every week. So [it just takes] patience, I guess.
MarketWatch: What makes you hopeful now?
Casella: I guess I’m just a hopeful person. To quote a movie, the night is darkest before the dawn. So this is just something that we’ve got to get through. Death rates are going down. It seems like this self-quarantine that we’re doing, the social distancing, is seemingly having an effect. As long as we keep doing what we’re doing, I see no reason not to be hopeful.
I am thankfully in an industry that when it’s healthy, it’s good to everyone. And I know a lot of people aren’t in a similar position as me — there’s definitely people out there who are suffering worse than I am. I wish everyone well.
Originally Published on MarketWatch
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