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SOLMSSEN: Eco at the end of recession?
Some economic indicators lead, others lag. Unfortunately, for millions of Americans, employment is one figure that lags even when a recovery has started. As business and labor leaders joined President Obama's Dec. 3 White House jobs summit, there might have been a temptation to see little - if any - light at the end of the unemployment tunnel.
I have a different perspective. As head of a U.S. company with a German parent whose business footprint includes energy, health care and industrialization, I have a clear view of the American economy - and of jobs in particular.
Like many companies during the past year, we have seen painful reductions in our labor force reflecting the brutal realities of today's marketplace. Almost no company has been spared. But the news is not all bad. In fact, in Siemens' view, reindustrializing America means growth in exactly those areas that have the likeliest long-term business potential: green tech.
Take our energy business. Our U.S. employment here is up over last year with the renewables division showing the strongest jobs growth. But the numbers tell only half the story. In Hutchinson, Kan. - literally right in the center of the United States - we're building a 300,000-square-foot facility to produce the structure that houses the generator, gearbox and control electronics on top of wind turbines. Because of the plant's central location, these turbines can easily be delivered to customers throughout America's nearby "wind belt." Ground was broken in August. Once completed, this new facility will employ 300 new workers, adding to the growing ranks of America's green-collar work force.
In Elgin, Ill., we recently expanded our plant where we manufacture wind turbine gear drives, adding another 300 new production and more than 50 white-collar jobs over the next three to four years. That's more than double the number of employees already working there.
In Sacramento, Calif., we're adding 200 new jobs at our light rail manufacturing facility where we've already manufactured zero-emission trains for American cities - including San Diego, Denver, and Charlotte, N.C., as well as trains for export to Edmonton, Canada.
These are just a few examples where we're seeing growth. These jobs may seem very different from one another, but the common denominator is green. For policymakers meeting this week, they should know that green is not just rhetoric - it's real. And for a growing number of Americans, it now means a paycheck.
Policies that encourage further growth should be strengthened and expanded. For example, America needs to promote a low-carbon economy, including consistent, predictable tax, financing and research and development policies that favor investment in green tech. We also need to take a careful look at Buy American provisions so they do not unduly restrict critical international trade.
We applaud Mr. Obama's recent announcement that he will hold an annual science fair at the White House. What does a science fair have to do with jobs? A lot, if you're talking about the future.
America needs to create a better innovation pipeline in which the next generation's best minds can help solve the toughest environmental challenges, which in turn, will generate even more green jobs. Siemens sponsors a competition of its own at the high school level to encourage students to pursue careers in engineering, science and math.
This year's participants continued to impress: Projects include creating supercapacitors for energy storage, improving fuel cell performance, and a host of other promising areas that could lead to future jobs we can't even imagine today.
I hope the optimists win the day. There is light at the end of the economic tunnel - it's green, and reindustrialization is powering it. Policymakers should do everything possible for Americans to make more green jobs a reality.
Peter Solmssen is chairman of the board of Siemens USA.
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