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Published: Tuesday, 11/11/2008

Auto-part firms urged to branch into alternative energy tooling

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

For every person assembling automobiles for one of the domestic automakers, analysts say there are at least six others standing behind that person at other companies making parts.

Now, the Ohio Department of Development is hoping to convince those companies that their expertise is needed - and there is money to be made - building components for alternative energy companies.

About six dozen people in business, government, and economic development listened yesterday to officials from the state lay out the inducements available to help companies enter the alternative energy supply chain. The morning-long seminar at Owens Community College is the third of 10 such regional gatherings being held around the state.

"Say you're in the auto industry, and things aren't booming," said Jim Zuber, advanced energy manager for the Ohio development agency. "What we're out to do is bring in businesses to show them that there's an opportunity to look at alternative energies like wind, which has been a growing industry."

He was among several presenters who discussed Ohio's growing alternative energy footprint. From solar cell companies with local pedigrees, such as Xunlight Corp. and First Solar Inc., to ethanol plants and wind turbine manufacturers, Mr. Zuber argued that there are opportunities for existing companies to help these young industries grow.

"We want to help people think outside the box, so that if you're making parts for automobiles right now, for instance, you can, with a little modification, make parts for wind turbines," he explained. "There are literally thousands of parts in wind turbines that require strict tolerances, so this is an industry that lines up well [with auto suppliers]."

Grant money is available from the state to help companies convert their products to serve new clients and to save jobs in Ohio.

One of those listening intently was Bob Brossia, chief executive of Jerl Machine Inc., in Perrysburg. The company has carved out a market for itself by supplying specialty machines to a variety of industries, including automotive, steel, and packaging.

His company has the expertise to be able to supply alternative energy firms, but it hasn't ventured into the field yet, he said. "We haven't done anything with wind yet. That's why we're here."

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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