Gov. Ted Strickland christened northwest Ohio on Wednesday as an official hub of solar energy research and innovation, a type of economic-development coming-out party meant to boost investment and create local jobs in alternative energy. Northwest Ohio became the state's third Ohio Hub of Innovation and Opportunity, behind Cleveland for health care and Dayton for aerospace. Mr. Strickland, a Democrat, announced the designation yesterday at the University of Toledo's Scott Park campus, home to alternative energy research, a solar energy field, and a windmill. The designation unlocks a $250,000 state grant to help advertise the region as a hub and logical place for alternative energy investment. It also amounts to recognition from the Strickland administration that northwest Ohio universities, colleges, and local governments have been working together effectively to build a new economy.
"A hub is more than a point of civic pride, it's a proclamation from the state," Mr. Strickland said at the ceremony. Toledo's growing space in the solar-energy industry has its underpinnings in local history.
| Gov. Ted Strickland confers with University of Toledo President Lloyd Jacobs under an Ohio Hubs banner. |
( THE BLADE/JEREMY WADWORTH )
Decades ago, natural gas was discovered here and made possible the high-temperature transformation of plentiful sand into valuable glass, supplying the auto industry and several others. Toledo became known as the Glass City.
Glass is a main ingredient in a solar panel, and the rise of First Solar Inc., an alternative-energy darling on Wall Street, brought photovoltaic fame to Toledo.
Xunlight Corp., a solar company grown in UT labs, also has been growing in the area.
Bowling Green State University and UT also have alternative-energy research programs and incubator and investment programs that work on spinning off research into profitable enterprises.
Other areas of the country are trying to become the royalty of solar innovation, and some critics say Ohio lawmakers must be vigilant and provide more incentives to lure investment. In March, a Blade investigation revealed that Toledo and its northwest Ohio neighbors have missed out on coveted manufacturing jobs in the solar industry because of a failure by state officials to attract companies with tax incentives or create a viable market for solar panels in Ohio. Since 2007, thousands of those jobs have gone to states where companies were enticed by a mixture of tax credits, grants, and additional incentives to make solar products there. Although northwest Ohio has gained its share of acclaim in the solar industry through the success of First Solar and University of Toledo spin-offs such as Xunlight, thousands of laid-off factory workers have yet to find work from the gains made here in the research and development of thin-film photovoltaics. That's because, according to solar industry analysts, consultants, and executives, Ohio is fighting both the perception and reality of noncompetitive tax structures and incentive packages compared with other states.
| Toledo Mayor Mike Bell said during a ceremony at UT's Scott Campus that the region must look at different industries such as alternative energy for economic development. |
( THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH )
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