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Stimulus Spending Creates Green Jobs in US Rust Belt Town

Derek Henkle

September 16, 2011

As President Obama works to build support for his new jobs plan, Congress prepares to debate his bill. One portion of the bill proposes spending to create jobs, much like an earlier stimulus plan put into effect in 2009. While there are differences of opinion about how effective that first round of stimulus spending was, One company and one family are now thriving because of it.

Like many Americans, Christopher Ziegelhofer is trying to raise his young family in uncertain economic times.

The chemical industry worker has lost a series of jobs over the past seven years, as factories closed due to hard times, or outsourced their workforces. But at the height of the recession, he was faced with extreme challenges in finding work.

"[I was] working part-time at a job, collecting unemployment, and just trying to get back in the industry," Ziegelhofer said.

Ziegelhofer was unemployed for months and says he began to worry about how he would care for his family.

But his luck changed when AE Polysilicon opened a production plant in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania, the economically-depressed steel town that Ziegelhofer calls home.

"I actually got the job," recalled Ziegelhofer. "Getting that job was like hitting the lottery. It sounds a little crazy to say that I hit the lottery getting a job, but when you think of how the world's going right now, to be able to get a job that has an endless future, you couldn't ask for anything more."

In his new job, Ziegelhofer supervises the manufacturing of highly-refined materials for solar panels.

The company says its unique process produces higher-efficiency solar panels at increasingly lower costs.

AE Polysilicone got $44 million in federal tax credits as part of the 2009 Recovery Act, under a program aimed at creating "green collar" jobs.

This allowed the company to hire Ziegelhofer and 13 of his fellow laid off co-workers, along with dozens of others.

It's at companies like AE Polysilicon where America's economic growth and clean energy goals come together. Economic stimulus grants created 450 jobs here, with more expected in the future.

Leo Tsuo, the company's development manager, says the whole community came out a winner.

"What we bring to this community, is we bring jobs - of all different levels," said Tsuo. "We have manufacturing jobs, we have engineering jobs, we have business jobs and these are sustainable, high-paying jobs in an industry that is growing."

And there is another benefit. Tsuo says that once the plant is fully operational, there will be a domestic energy boost as well.

It's exactly these type of dual-impact jobs that President Obama hopes to create with his new $447 billion Jobs act.

"Do we keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, or should we invest in education and technology and in infrastructure -- all the things that are going to help us out innovate and out educate and out build other countries in the future," said Obama.

But not everyone agrees the jobs bill is good medicine for the economy.

Economist John Makin, with the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, says the president's ideas are not new, and not effective.

"Everybody wants people to get jobs, but we've done all these things," said Makin. "The operational question here is if we simply do more of it, will it work. If it had produced a higher growth rate, if growth had continued as people expected it would, we wouldn't be looking at this program.

Nevertheless, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, that first stimulus program created or saved jobs for as many as 3.2 million Americans.

For Christopher Ziegelhofer, who is one of those workers, investing in jobs sounds like the right thing to do.

"If you can give a person an honest living and a chance to work every day, and you want a stimulus that way, it's the best thing you can have," said Ziegelhofer.

Having a chance to work, for Ziegelhofer, at least, means literally powering a new economy.

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