Erie County efforts to attract advanced manufacturing could find fertile ground in a green energy manufacturing bill introduced in the Senate.
On Wednesday, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, unveiled the Green Energy Introduction Act, a bill that would expand green energy research and development, promote the commercialization of emerging energy technologies, enhance training opportunities and build a green energy manufacturing base.
"It's a job bill, it's an energy bill, it's an environment bill," Brown said Wednesday afternoon. "It will help workers build careers around green energy production."
Brown said the Green Energy Introduction Act would seek to resuscitate former manufacturing powerhouses that are struggling to survive in today's economy.
A recent study by Angelou Economics identified advanced manufacturing, which focuses on innovation and invests heavily in research and development, as one of four main industries Erie County should target for future growth.
"We have to be ready," said Tom Ferrell, Erie County Commissioners' chairman. "We want our community to be ready to take the next step, and be ready to attract those kinds of industry."
Sandusky City Commission president Dennis Murray Jr. said there have been on-going conversations with a Dutch company about the possibility of bringing wind turbine manufacturing and assembly to Erie County. Murray said the discussions are part of a long-term effort to bring higher-paying, skilled manufacturing jobs to the area.
"We have a reservoir of talent in the area," Murray said, explaining that many local people with manufacturing experience are either unemployed or underemployed for their skill levels.
According to the Angelou study, three key assets that will help Erie County attract advanced manufacturing are the skilled labor Murray described, competitive labor costs and transportation infrastructure. Hurdles the county will have to overcome to become a leader in advanced manufacturing are high electric utility rates and the perception that Northern Ohio is a hotbed of union activity and protracted labor struggle.
Brown acknowledged Ohio's rich history in energy sources such as coal, but said the state's economic future depends on its ability to move forward.
Though Germany leads the world in green energy manufacturing and China is close behind, Brown said it is not too late for American ingenuity and innovation to make the U.S. a key player in the global advancement of green energy. Brown said he believes that this bill will re-energize manufacturing hubs like Ohio.
The green manufacturing jobs will still cost some green. The bill as proposed by Brown calls for $36 billion of funding over the course of five years.
Brown said funding for the investment corporation and internship/apprenticeship programs outlined in the bill will be dependent on money generated by climate change legislation. He said such funding sources could include carbon credits or a reduction in tax breaks for oil companies.
Brown also referenced the $3 billion spent last week on the war in Iraq.
"Part of the reason for the war in Iraq is because we don't really have an energy policy," Brown said.
The legislation grew out of more than 90 meetings and roundtable discussions on green energy manufacturing hosted by Brown during the past 14 months. Brown said great ideas are too often left on the drawing board, or worse -- enacted overseas.
The Toledo-based company First Solar, for example, recently built a factory in Germany. Brown said importing the technology and equipment from Germany and China is not in our nation's best interest, which is why he is emphasizing green manufacturing in the U.S.
"If we do this right, two things will happen -- we wean ourselves from foreign oil and we create good-paying jobs here at home," Brown said.
There are currently no co-sponsors for the bill, but Brown said he doesn't think it will be hard to find support for it.
"The government can't do it all, but it can help companies do the right thing by their customers and by the environment," Brown said.