America loves a good comeback story.
The nation’s venerable yet troubled automotive industry first fought its way to global economic dominance
then found itself on the ropes amid a national recession. And now as the major U.S. car manufacturers
reconstitute themselves, the industry’s future remains uncertain but there may be hope ahead. Local
businesses – such as Wood County’s solar manufacturing facilities – are attracting national attention
for their technologies that offer new possibilities for an existing domestic workforce.
The White House, in fact, sees opportunities in operations such as the Willard and Kelsey solar
manufacturing plant in Perrysburg for an old industry to join the new global marketplace.
Vice President Joe Biden convened a meeting of his Middle Class Task Force on Tuesday at the local
upstart solar business, located at 1775 Progress Drive, to discuss emerging manufacturing opportunities
for middle class workers. He was joined by Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, Secretary of Commerce John
Locke and Director of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers Ed Montgomery on the plant’s factory
floor, surrounded by fellow task force members, a crush of local elected officials and more than 200
members of the public.
Biden called Willard and Kelsey, which planned to sign a deal with its first customer after the event, a
role model success story for the potential of U.S. manufacturing.
"This is an American company using technology developed in Northwest Ohio that’s shipping its end
product to a foreign market," Biden said. "That sounds like the old days, doesn’t it?"
By taking advantage of new technologies, he said, the country could "rewrite the story of American
manufacturing." He said American manufacturing could once again become the strongest and most
competitive in the world.
"There’s no reason why our shuttered factories can’t throw open those shutters and allow the light
of new clean renewable green energy to come streaming through those windows," he said.
Biden said U.S. manufacturing could capture its share of the new global market through burgeoning
technologies – such as wind and solar power, advanced battery technology, nanotechnology, biotechnology
and robotics – or other technologies yet to be invented. Since American companies are already inventing
those technologies, he said, they should also begin producing on those platforms to help the industry
move into the 21st century. He said the combination of the nation’s highly-skilled workforce and access
to the world’s top technologies would make the transition possible.
"Every one of these new expanded or potentially expanding sectors is a chapter in the rewrite of our
manufacturing story," he said.
The White House believes the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will play a major part in that new
story, since the act invests heavily in expanding sectors that show promise. While some parts of the
manufacturing sector are contracting, he said, other areas will grow. "And the recovery act is
designed to nourish that growth."
The vice president announced the creation of a White House Council on Automotive Communities and Workers
that would focus on issues related to communities affected the most by developments in the automotive
industry. The council will work with the National Innovation Marketplace to help supply chain
organizations – whose employees often suffer from collateral damage as a result of struggling
end-product manufacturing entities – identify what new products they can make as well as a market where
those new products can be sold.
"When a factory shutters, suppliers have two choices," he said. "They can become a link in
the new chain of a new industry, or they can go out of business."
A company may still make gear boxes, for example – but for a wind turbine instead of a vehicle. In some
cases, those outfits only need information about where to begin. The NIM program is intended to set
factories, once again, on the path to building strong supply chains and creating reliable working-class
Along the way, Biden said, the council on automotive communities will continue to work with people hit
hardest by contracting sectors of the auto industry, which is "an important part of this story
"Even as we move forward in making American manufacturing the strongest and most competitive in the
world again, we can’t leave behind those who suffered most" due to recent upsets in the industry,
he said. "We’ve got to give them a chance to get in on the new deal, the new game."
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Manufacturers need to adapt to survive n global economy, experts advise
PERRYSBURG – American manufacturers will need to adapt to survive in the global economy, according to
industry experts who advise the vice president.
During the fifth meeting of the White House Middle Class Task Force – held Tuesday at Willard and Kelsey
Solar Group headquarters in Perrysburg – Vice President Joe Biden said the future auto market is
estimated to allow for the production of only 10 million vehicles a year, about 6 million less than are
typically produced. The industry will not vanish, but Biden and those serving on his task force stress
that the nation’s manufacturers will need to expand their production lines.
Through the National Innovation Marketplace program, the government hopes to connect manufacturers with
new markets and to cultivate ideas for new technologies that could be produced by those manufacturers.
About 1,300 companies have already taken advantage of the NIM program and have seen sales increase by
more than $250 million, Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke said.
Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland told the task force that he routinely hears from businesses that they are
willing to diversify, "but that can only happen when they have access to working capital that
enables them to make that transition."
Michael Greenstone, from the White House Council of Economic Advisors, credited the administration with
efforts to fix the capital markets following their recent implosion. He pointed to stimulus funding and
tax credits, as well as the White House’s plan for a cap-and-trade program which would reduce greenhouse
emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
Asked to describe the current state of U.S. manufacturing, Greenstone said the country possesses the most
productive manufacturing sector in the world. By itself, he said, it is the ninth largest world economy
and is "an incredible driver for research and development." However, the industry began
showing signs of a decline about 10 years ago. Health care costs, in particular, have been hard on
"It is true that the last several years were quite difficult on manufacturing, but there’s this long
tradition embodied in the great productivity growth rate that we have," he said.
With proper investment, Greenstone said, the industry’s future is beginning to look somewhat brighter.
Biden acknowledged that his administration has received some criticism for "doing too much" and
ostensibly has not focused solely on the economy. But, he said, the economic problem cannot be solved
without addressing issues such as education, energy and health care.
Other countries can make cars for less, for example, because those companies don’t shoulder the same
health care burden as American companies, he said. "If we have a rational health care policy here,
it drives down costs."
Upon closing the task force discussion, Biden solicited comments from the public.
Demetria Watkins, of Toledo, told the vice president that she took a buyout package from one of the major
regional car manufacturers because she was told the company would fund two years of her education. She
had worked 15 years for the company as a production operator specialist.
"That has not been done," she said. "It’s been six months."
Ed Montogomery, director of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, said the funding may have been
lost in bankruptcy proceedings but would more likely be available if the funding was promised as part of
a union contract. Watkins said after the event that Montgomery assured her he would follow up on the
Another out-of-work employee with years in the auto industry noted that government had assisted the
companies that have cost so many people their jobs.
"When are the blue collar people going to get our handout," he asked Biden.
Biden said officers at Chrysler and General Motors had to take a salary cap to receive government
assistance. And had the companies been allowed to liquidate, he said, their failures would have resulted
in the loss of 700,000 to a million jobs.
"They ain’t getting any golden parachute," he said.
After the event, U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green, said during a conference call that the
administration’s cap-and-trade program would pressure manufacturers to take their jobs overseas.
"If the Obama administration truly wants to protect and create jobs, the president and congressional
democrats must stop their consideration of the cap-and-trade legislation that will result in a massive
national energy tax on American businesses and families," he said.
Tim Brown, Wood County commissioner, said he appreciated the administration’s awareness of Northwest
Ohio’s leadership in green technologies.
"They understand the approach to turning the economy around is going to have to be
multi-faceted," he said.