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U.S. must invest in new fields to create new jobs

President Obama is proposing ideas to try to stimulate job creation. We need his ideas and proposals, and any other good ideas, from whatever source.

Obama emphasizes infrastructure renovation and repair -- roads, bridges, airports, schools. Add to his list modern railway beds and track systems and repair of the old, leaky water supply systems. Waste of water, a precious natural resource, is almost criminal.

We should be able, once again, to be the envy of other nations, having a thoroughly modern, up-to-date infrastructure nationwide. Having let it deteriorate is not something to be proud of. And, true, construction is where the big numbers of jobs can be made fast.

We have a serious job shortage. Can we learn from the successes of a country many think of as a competitor? Or from one we think of as a staunch ally?

From 2006 to 2010, that competitor's solar photovoltaic (PV) power sector and wind power industry, both turbine manufacture and power generation, averaged about 43,000 direct jobs per year. The number of indirect jobs has been and is expected to be nearly three times the number of direct jobs. That may not seem like a lot of new jobs, but we need to find them even in small batches. This is one example.

The competitor country is China. But adding some 40,000 new jobs directly related to PV and wind power industries each and every year until 2020 should be within our grasp, too.

Our ally, Germany, has long been the strongest economy in Europe and the leader in renewable energy.

Of course, some investment in our fledgling PV and wind manufacturing industries would be needed to help move down the cost curve, but no more than the subsidies we now provide to oil companies and ethanol production. We could -- if we wanted to -- switch beneficiaries of those subsidies.

Most important is that we need to find ways to create good jobs for Americans. PV and wind industries provide one way to do that. They are new and have enormous growth potential. They involve manufacturing -- actually making real things -- an activity we need to rebuild in our country.

Recently Solyndra Corp. of California went bankrupt. Its manufacturing costs couldn't compete with China. But the issue is not just a company's bottom line. The jobs that could be retained should be factored in as a national benefit. We've let a lot of jobs be shipped overseas, and we then end up buying the manufactured products instead of making them here.

These are things we can do just as well or better than other countries, especially when we recognize the benefits of updating and realize the dramatic potential of new technologies and the manufacturing that goes with them. All we need to do is to set our priorities where they ought to be -- and then get on with it. We can become a fully modern country and lead the world again.


Paul H. Reitan is emeritus trustee of the Western New York Sustainable EnergyAssociation.