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Hiring the Unemployed: With the Help of Ohio Renewable Energy Standards, First Solar Brings Economic Security to Families and Communities

Dylan Sullivan

Posted September 14, 2011 in Curbing Pollution, Green Enterprise, Solving Global Warming

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Bryan Loskorn had been underemployed—unemployed, really—for a long time before he found a job at First Solar, in Perrysburg, Ohio. The company is a world leader in the manufacture of “thin film” solar panels that make pollution-free electricity from the sun.

“Back then, I was just doing side jobs, really,” says Loskorn, a father of two, about his three years out-of-work. “I helped a guy with carpeting. I did some subbing as a teacher.” A former varsity athlete at Bowling Green State University, Loskorn got certified as a massage therapist, but jobs were hard to come by. Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Loskorn, Bryan.jpg

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Bryan Loskorn and Adrian Davison are just two of many formerly unemployed workers now employed at Ohio's First Solar. The company's success is buttressed by renewable energy requirements in 29 states, including Ohio.

Before being laid off when his company downsized, Loskorn had worked for almost 20 years as a steel press operator. His wife waits tables at a small restaurant near their rural home. His unemployment “was rough on us financially. I’d worked long enough that we did have some savings and investments,” he says. “But they really dwindled down quite a bit.” Like many middle-aged, unemployed workers, Loskorn “was definitely worried about getting hired,” he says. “You can’t help but have it go through your mind: ‘Are they going to hire a 25 year-old guy or a 55 year-old guy?’”

Now, though, with the help of renewable energy standards in Ohio, 28 other states, Washington DC and Puerto Rico, Loskorn has a secure job with good benefits, as a production worker at First Solar. “We do the actual processes of putting the solar modules together,” Loskorn explains. “I love my job. It’s the cleanest manufacturing plant I’ve ever been in. And you get treated very well.”

Loskorn isn’t the only formerly unemployed worker now contributing to the local economy, thanks to First Solar’s growth. Despite the seemingly intractable recession and the shift to overseas production that have both devastated Ohio’s manufacturing economy, in the last five years, the company’s Ohio staff has more than doubled, to 1200 employees. “We’re definitely continuing to grow here,” says company communications specialist Melanie Friedman. The company, which now employs more than 6,000 worldwide, does much of its manufacturing in Perrysburg; its research and development are conducted there, too. Says Friedman about the company’s growth in Ohio, “Overall, renewable energy standards are really supportive of companies like First Solar.” 

These standards, often called Renewable Portfolio Standards, work by requiring utilities to produce a portion of their energy from clean sources. Ohio’s RPS, enacted by a unanimous vote of the state legislature in 2008, ensures that by 2025, one-eighth of Ohio’s electricity will come from renewable sources such as solar and wind. Half of that amount must be produced in Ohio. And First Solar is helping make the mandate a reality across the Buckeye State. In Wyandot County, its panels generate power for 9,000 homes. And at the Toledo Zoo, the 100-kilowatt array the company donated helps the park fulfill its mission: protecting the world’s diverse animal species by reducing the air pollution that threatens their habitats and ours. “We worked with local vendors to get it built,” Friedman explains about the project. 

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The 100 kilowatt solar array First Solar donated to the Toledo Zoo was built with the help of local contractors.

As First Solar grows, it brings on formerly unemployed workers whose skills sets aren’t unique to clean technology or manufacturing. Adrian Davison, in First Solar’s human resources department, had lost her job at a construction management firm devastated by the financial crisis. “You accept being laid off when you hear it,” she recalls now. “But driving home, I was bawling. What was I going to do? How could I afford to live?”

Like Loskorn, she didn’t know much about clean energy before she arrived at First Solar. But now, both are stirred by the way their company improves the environment and betters people’s health as it creates jobs. “The fact that you’re contributing to this,” Loskorn says, taking a breath. “You take a lot of pride in that.” These employees believe renewable energy deserves support at the local, state and federal level. “As a country,” Davison says, “do we want to be to be known for having landfills, or known for being in the forefront and moving forward?”

Renewable Portfolio Standards create demand for solar technology. That demand has the power to transform not only our energy supply, but the individuals who work in the industry and the communities they live in. “This job brought stability into our lives,” says Loskorn. His daughter was in middle school when he arrived at First Solar. “She took pride in the fact that I had a job.”

“Around this part of Ohio,” Davison says, “you see plant after plant that has closed. But here, we’re constantly growing and adding new facilities. People are doing well and putting money into the local economy. It’s kind of amazing—First Solar is the shiny gem of the area.”

Thanks, in part, to the Renewable Portfolio Standards in more than 29 states—Ohio included.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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