U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and U.S. Department of Commerce Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing and Services Nicole Lamb-Hale today toured First Solar, a Perrysburg-based manufacturer of thin film solar modules. Brown and Lamb-Hale were joined by members of the Manufacturing Council, in addition to a group of Ohio State University and area high school students, for a tour of First Solar’s solar module production facility. The senator, a leading Senate advocate for American manufacturing, also announced plans to reintroduce the SECTORS Act, a critical bill to train workers for skilled jobs in emerging industries like clean energy.
“Manufacturers are the backbone of our country’s economy, providing a reliable ticket to the middle class for generations of Ohioans and their families. We know how to make things in Ohio—from car parts to cutting-edge solar modules like the ones being made right here at First Solar,” Brown said. “Northwest Ohio is leading the way in 21st-century manufacturing and the clean energy economy. I’m grateful to Assistant Secretary Lamb-Hale for taking the time to see first-hand how important it is for the Commerce Department to provide support to manufacturers like First Solar, and why it’s so critical to help these small businesses expand their exports so that they can grow and add new jobs.”
“And as we transition to a clean energy economy, it’s critical that workers have the training to meet the demand for skilled jobs,” Brown continued. “That’s why I plan to reintroduce the Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act—so that talented Ohioans can get the skills they need to hold good-paying jobs at places like First Solar.”
First Solar CEO Bruce Sohn serves as chairman of the Manufacturing Council, which is tasked with advising the Secretary of Commerce on matters relating to the competitiveness of the manufacturing sector. The Council convened in Ohio for the first time ever on Tuesday to discuss competitiveness, workforce development, and trade and energy issues.
Despite the nation's 9.3 percent unemployment rate, there is still demand in today's labor market for skilled workers. This is particularly true for "middle-skill" jobs that require more than a high school degree but less than a four-year college degree. These jobs make up nearly half of America's labor market and provide good compensation for workers.
The SECTORS Act addresses the disparity between high unemployment rates and a shortage of skilled workers for many emerging industries by providing grants for sector partnerships among institutions of higher education, industry, organized labor, and workforce board. These partnerships would create customized solutions for specific industries at the regional level. A sector approach can focus on the dual goals of promoting the long-term competitiveness of industries and advancing employment opportunities for workers.
The SECTORS Act would organize stakeholders connected to a regional industry-multiple firms, unions, education and training providers, and local workforce and education system administrators-to develop plans for growing that industry. Eligible entities would be able to apply for a one year planning grant of up to $250,000 and a three year implementation grant of up to $2.5 million.
As Chairman of the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Economic Policy and a member of the Senate Manufacturing Caucus, Brown has introduced a package of key legislative proposals aimed at bolstering the competiveness of U.S. manufacturers and boosting domestic manufacturing. He also serves as a member of the President’s Export Council, working to advance the National Export Initiative (NEI) and reach President Barack Obama's goal to double exports over the next five years.
During the State Work Period in August and September, Brown traveled around Ohio meeting with small business owners and workers as part of his “Made in Ohio Tour.” Described as "Congress' leading proponent of American Manufacturing," Brown is working with the Obama Administration on the creation of a national manufacturing policy and has outlined five key areas of focus to invest in the manufacturing industry:
- Creating a business climate, through tax and health care policies, favorable to investment in manufacturing;
- Investing in the manufacturing capacity for national priorities such as clean energy and critical military equipment;
- Strengthening our component supply chains through the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP);
- Matching dislocated workers with emerging industries through sector-based workforce training strategies;
- Making the research and development tax credit permanent to lend predictability to this crucial incentive for manufacturing innovation;
- Promoting exports and defending against unfair trade.