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Although 2008 was a challenging year, Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner in his State of the City speech Monday proclaimed that the city is transforming itself and making strides against the job-killing recession with innovation in alternative energy.
"Toledo [is] recognized today as one of the world's top producers and researchers of clean, green, renewable alternative energy," Mr. Finkbeiner said to members of the Toledo Rotary Club and the Toledo business community in the ballroom of the Park Inn hotel downtown.
Mr. Finkbeiner said Toledo has become one of the nation's most progressive and innovative solar-energy centers.
In his speech, "Transforming Toledo Together!" the mayor cited excerpts of reports from ABC, CNN, and the Wall Street Journal detailing the growth of solar energy businesses in the city and region.
The mayor said First Solar Inc., which has a solar-panel-making plant in Perrysburg Township, is proceeding with expansion plans, creating 134 jobs, and it produces more solar panels than any other company in the United States.
"Even with all of the nation's economic challenges, the city concluded 2007 with 81 new development projects moving forward, 1,611 new jobs created, and 2,854 jobs retained, with a combined capital investment of nearly $407 million," Mr. Fink-beiner said. "In 2008, 1,026 new jobs were created and 2,331 jobs retained."
Three hundred people listened to the mayor's 30-minute speech, which he is to repeat at 7 tonight at Blessed Sacrament Church in West Toledo. The public is invited to attend.
The mayor said the city's economy and its standing in the solar industry are being bolstered by job creation at First Solar, Xunlight Corp., SuGanit Systems, and a possible 200 new jobs by "a young company from California involved in the solar panel industry."
SuGanit Systems was awarded a $1 million grant from the state of Ohio to refine its process of converting yard waste into ethanol. The mayor said Toledo city vehicles would soon demonstrate a project using the company's product.
"One of 2008's key economic successes was retaining HCR ManorCare and its 700 career-level jobs in Toledo," he said. "Another job-retention/job-gain project of note is the $11.5 million investment in Toledo's Pepsi-Cola bottling plant. This retains 250 jobs, creates 25 new jobs, and is one of just three Pepsi plants in the nation selected for expansion."
Reaction to the speech was mixed yesterday afternoon.
Mayoral candidate Keith Wilkowski, who like the mayor is a Democrat, said Mr. Finkbeiner misrepresented the state of the city's economy and its role in the emergence of solar-energy companies. "Despite the mayor's cheerleading for solar energy, he hasn't in three years done one thing to advance the solar industry in our region," Mr. Wilkowski said. "He can't point to a project, or a program, or a policy."
Toledo has suffered a net loss of 4,600 jobs since 2006, when Mr. Finkbeiner took office, and unemployment has increased from 6.8 percent to 10.3 percent, Mr. Wilkowski said.
Toledo has the highest jobless rate of any major city in the state, and 15,200 Toledoans are out of work, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Republican Toledo Councilman Tom Waniewski was disappointed that the mayor spent so much time yesterday on the solar industry rather than offering promises to maintain basic services such as police protection, trash collection, and street repair.
"That expansion in solar, in my opinion, came about in spite of city government," he said. "Nobody can cheer Toledo on like the mayor. He pointed out all these thing in education, in health, and in solar, and that's fantastic - how many of those things have to do with the governance of the city?"
Mr. Finkbeiner hasn't said if he'll seek a fourth term.
Brian Wilson, a talk-show host for WSPD-AM 1370 who has endorsed the so-called Take Back Toledo committee, said he disagreed with many of the mayor's statements. The committee has announced plans to place a mayoral recall referendum on the Sept. 15 ballot.
Mr. Wilson said, "If you'll notice those areas where stupendous growth has taken place it's not Toledo, it's Wood County, it's Perrysburg, it's Rossford, it's Sylvania and therein lies the issue."
However Councilman George Sarantou, a Republican, said the mayor was very positive and delivered a good message.
"There are so many things going on in the city of Toledo the last several years, and what we are seeing here is a culmination of many projects," Mr. Sarantou said. "Whoever the mayor is has to be positive [and] has to believe in this city. I don't know of any negative leaders in America who have truly succeeded."
The mayor said 2009 promises to be productive for economic development in Toledo. He cited the utility and roadway infrastructure at the planned $300 million Marina District in East Toledo and the planned $250 million Riverwalk project along Swan Creek in the Warehouse District.
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