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Published: 12/28/2008

Sun on the horizon

The region's solar-panel start-ups indicate that there is light at the end of a gloomy economic tunnel for northwest Ohio

EVERYONE knows how hard it's getting to just get by. Millions of people are unemployed, hundreds of thousands more are being laid off every week; homelessness is on the rise; people with jobs are squeezing their pennies; billions of dollars are being spent trying to prime the economic pump; state and local governments are having to slash budgets, and the economy - nationally, statewide, and locally - has slowed to a crawl.

And while the immortal words of Bachman-Turner Overdrive that "you ain't seen nothin' yet" are true, there are signs that if northwest Ohio can weather the current storm, better times are just ahead.

Just last week it was announced that the number of people signing up for unemployment benefits across the country had reached a 26-year high of more than 580,000 in the week ending Dec. 20. Locally, 10.3 percent of Toledoans are out of work, the highest total among Ohio's major cities. Consumer spending was down nationally in November for the fifth straight month, the longest continuous stretch for half a century.

None of that takes into account the 5,000 workers from General Motors Corp. Toledo Powertrain plants in Toledo and Defiance and Chrysler's Jeep assembly plant in Toledo. The layoffs are expected to have a ripple effect at auto parts suppliers, restaurants, retail stores, and other area businesses.

And those suddenly affordable gas prices? Well, the falling crude prices everyone's been applauding actually are bad because they're a reflection of decreased demand for oil that's largely driven by the worldwide manufacturing slowdown, not the decline in the number of miles Americans are driving. Not even OPEC's announcement of deep cuts in oil production was able to convince investors that demand for oil iwas going to outstrip supplies anytime soon.

Let's put it this way: Nearly all the economic indicators for 2009 are flashing red "danger" signs. Most experts agree that the U.S. economy has not yet bottomed out. In fact, few are willing to speculate where the bottom might be. All the more reason, therefore, to be thankful that in northwest Ohio a little sunlight can be seen peaking through the black clouds that cover much of the nation.

Sunlight, literally, in the form of a $5 million state loan approved for solar-panel start-up Willard & Kelsey Solar Group LLC of Perrysburg. Willard & Kelsey, which will use the loan to help create 400 good-paying jobs, will join Perrysburg Township's First Solar and Toledo's Xunlight Corp. at the forefront of the area's growing number of green technology and alternative energy companies. The company has said it will eventually invest $105 million in the former Delafoil Inc. plant, which will become the hub for its corporate operations and research and development.

The pain many in this area are feeling is real. Indeed, some people likely will never recover from the losses they're currently suffering. But even though it is little comfort now to people who have lost their jobs or homes, area residents should take heart in the knowledge that the future is not as dark as Toledo's gloomy winter weather. There is a sun on the horizon capable of powering northwest Ohio's economic recovery.



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