Northwest Ohio community leaders asked for more government investment in alternative energy and education during an economic roundtable yesterday with Sen. Sherrod Brown.
The newly elected Democratic senator has attended similar events statewide, but he said that yesterday's meeting was distinct because academic, union, corporate, and local government officials all want to transform the region into a hub for developing wind-and-solar power technologies.
"They're ahead of the game on cooperation," Mr. Brown said.
The 19-person roundtable occurred at a pivotal moment in the Toledo area's economic identity.
As the domestic automotive industry sheds jobs, northwest Ohio has attached its well-being to $18.6 million in state-funded solar cell research and a possible federal laboratory to test 300-foot blades for wind turbines.
The region has successfully transitioned its economy before, noted Michael Veh, an official with Lucas County's Workforce Development Agency.
"At the turn of the last century, we were one of the world's leading manufacturers of buggies and bicycles," Mr. Veh said. "We made a very easy progression into the tubular frames used in the automotive industry because of that technology."
East Toledo is among six finalists nationwide for the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, an $11.5 million project that could make the state a manufacturing center for the wind-power industry.
"We need some political support to make it happen," said Bill Brennan, chairman of the Regional Growth Partnership, which partnered with the University of Toledo and the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority on the proposal.
Mr. Brown pledged his assistance, saying he would discuss the bid with the Bush Administration and fellow legislators.
"I know a lot of presidential candidates who might want to help Ohio," the swing-state senator said after the roundtable.
University of Toledo President Lloyd Jacobs said education would be a necessary component in shifting workers into new careers, an opinion repeated by almost everyone gathered for the roundtable at the Dana Conference Center on the UT Health Science Campus, formerly the Medical College of Ohio.
But Bruce Harmon, president of Steelworkers Local 700T, said federal tariffs should be in place to prevent those careers from migrating offshore.
"If you don't correct that, all the jobs you create are going to go back over the pond," Mr. Harmon said. "You're going to have mass unemployment. So everyone sitting here is going to eat McDonald's, if you can afford McDonald's. But you sure won't be going to a restaurant if you don't correct the free trade agreements."
"I get a little bit mad about them," Mr. Harmon added.
Mr. Brown, who wrote the book Myths of Free Trade: Why American Trade Policy Has Failed, responded by putting an index finger to his lips, nodding his head, and grinning slightly.
"I agree with you," he said.
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