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VOL. 124 | NO. 122 | Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Biden: Council Will Help Auto Workers Get New Jobs

JOHN SEEWER | Associated Press Writer

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PERRYSBURG, Ohio (AP) - A new government council will help auto industry workers transition to new manufacturing opportunities, including jobs in alternative energy, Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday.

Biden toured the northwestern Ohio headquarters of the Willard & Kelsey Solar Group, which plans to begin large-scale production of solar panels this year. The Toledo area has been hit hard by job losses in the auto industry and is banking on more green factory jobs.

"I'm not going to sugarcoat this. Manufacturing is facing one of its toughest periods, in at least my lifetime," Biden said. But, he said, U.S. manufacturing can be successful again if, for example, auto workers are trained to work in the solar, wind or biotech industries.

There are close to 10 companies that are turning Toledo into a research hub for converting sunlight into energy.

President Barack Obama was expected to sign an executive order Tuesday that establishes the White House Council on Automotive Communities and Workers. The council will be chaired by one of the president's top economic advisers, Lawrence Summers, and his labor secretary, Hilda Solis.

The executive director will be Obama's director of recovery for auto communities and workers, Ed Montgomery.

The recession has been particularly hard on the auto industry, which has lost more than 400,000 jobs in the last decade.

Ohio has taken hits from both the big automakers who have announced two plant closings in recent months and the small auto suppliers who have been forced to slow production. The state ranks first in the country in the number of suppliers.

The Obama administration is expanding its program to help link auto suppliers with companies that are making wind turbines, solar panels and robotics, Biden said.

The auto suppliers, he said, already have the technology and skilled workers that can help them transition into making alternative energy products. "This program is going to put them on a self-sustaining path," he said.

Biden noted that the solar company he toured Tuesday is using technology developed in Ohio to produce and ship a product overseas. "That's the America I grew up in," he said.

Willard & Kelsey hopes to hire about 400 employees this year to increase production, said Gary Faykosh, the company's head of research and development. But everything is on hold because of the tight credit market, he said.

"We're ready to go," Faykosh said.

The solar technology startups in the Toledo area have become a popular backdrop for politicians promoting alternative energy.

As the Republican Party vice-presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin made a campaign stop in October at a company that is developing flexible solar panels. Earlier this month, Solis and Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland toured a factory that produces machines that make glass for the auto and solar industries.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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