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Published: Wednesday, 6/24/2009

Biden lauds Toledo solar work

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Vice President Joe Biden watched attentively as a solar-energy panel slowly emerged from a production line in Perrysburg, and then stepped before a local audience to talk about America's struggling manufacturing sector.

U.S. manufacturers are down, but not out, he said.

"There is no reason American manufacturers can't dominate again," the vice president told about 400 elected officials and local residents at Willard & Kelsey Solar Group LLC in suburban Toledo.

It was the highest-level visit to metro Toledo by an administration official since President Obama and Vice President Biden took office in January.

At Toledo Express, Vice President Joe Biden provides an autograph for William Childers, right, executive director of the Coleman Foundation, a philanthropic organization in Kent, Ohio. At Toledo Express, Vice President Joe Biden provides an autograph for William Childers, right, executive director of the Coleman Foundation, a philanthropic organization in Kent, Ohio.
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The administration chose the occasion to announce that it had created the White House Council on Automotive Communities and Workers to coordinate the federal response to an industry downturn that has ravaged car-making towns like Toledo. The task force is to be led by National Economic Council Director Larry Summers and U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

Metro Toledo's use of its glass-making history as a springboard to production of solar panels provides an example to other struggling manufacturing economies about how to adjust to the future, the vice president said.

"It's a metaphor," Mr. Biden said of Toledo's application of glass-production skills to the manufacture of low-cost thin-film solar panels. "It's about adapting - giving people a fighting chance."

Mr. Biden stepped off a plane into a blazing sun shortly before 9:15 a.m. at Toledo Express Airport.

Gov. Ted Strickland participates in a panel discussion, expressing gratitude for federal stimulus funds that he said are helping to deal with the state s budget deficit. He also expressed concern for Ohio auto suppliers having difficulty obtaining credit.  Gov. Ted Strickland participates in a panel discussion, expressing gratitude for federal stimulus funds that he said are helping to deal with the state s budget deficit. He also expressed concern for Ohio auto suppliers having difficulty obtaining credit.
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He shook hands with Gov. Ted Strickland and then greeted the waiting relatives of Army Maj. James Salome, who is a military aide to the vice president.


The major's family members live in suburban Holland.

Mr. Biden was whisked by motorcade to Willard & Kelsey, a new solar-panel manufacturer formed by veterans of Toledo's glass industry.

The firm is beginning shipments to its first customer, a consortium in Thailand. Gary Faykosh, company chief operating officer, led the tour.

The vice president came to Toledo to lead a town hall meeting that also included Gary Locke, U.S. commerce secretary.

"I'm not going to sugarcoat this," Mr. Biden said.

"Manufacturing is facing one of its toughest periods, at least in my lifetime."

In the hall was a large sign that announced a government Web site for middle-income families: AStrongMiddleClass.gov.

The Obama Administration, Mr. Biden said, plans to expand a program that links struggling auto suppliers with potential customers in healthier sectors such as wind-turbine manufacturing.

Governor Strickland told the vice president that Ohio auto suppliers continue to have trouble gaining access to credit.

Mr. Strickland, who the vice president repeatedly referred to as "guv," expressed gratitude for federal stimulus money that he said has kept the state budget deficit from ballooning to $7 billion from the $3.5 billion currently anticipated.

The Obama Administration entered office not seeking to expand the government's reach but to "keep the economy from dropping into a big sinkhole," Mr. Biden said.

Already, he added, rising consumer confidence and signs that the housing industry collapse has hit bottom point to a possible recovery.

Also on the panel with Governor Strickland and federal officials were the executive director and secretary of Policy Matters Ohio, a left-leaning organization that proposes raising taxes in Ohio.

The group advocates generating $2 billion for state coffers by restoring the top tax rate on the wealthiest Ohioans, restoring the state's corporate income tax, and returning Ohio's remaining personal income tax rates to 2007 levels.

Mr. Biden's visit stemmed from metro Toledo's emergence as a center of low-cost solar panel production and research.

Besides Willard & Kelsey, industry giant First Solar Inc., which is based on technology pioneered in Toledo, operates its lone North American plant in Perrysburg Township.

And Xunlight Corp. is in the early production stages of solar panel-making at a Toledo facility. The area also has several other solar energy businesses.

Despite Toledo's problems, Mr. Biden said: "The future here is bright. It's going to be hard. It's going to stay hard for the next year or so. We are going to get through this."

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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