Commerce secretary: Clean energy key to Midwest economic recovery

Tuesday, October 6, 2009 | 4:20 p.m. CDT

DETROIT — U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke told representatives of Midwest states on Tuesday that the growth of clean energy industries is key to the region's economic recovery and future.

Locke said new federal efforts such as a one-stop office in the Detroit area to make his department's services more accessible to businesses are part of a broader push to jump-start job creation.

"Our fight to build a new, clean energy economy is just getting started, and it is a fight that we simply must win," Locke said. His remarks kicked off the Midwestern Governors Association's two-day Jobs and Energy Forum in Detroit.

Locke said the CommerceConnect pilot program, if it's successful, could be expanded to other areas around the country. A ribbon cutting was held Tuesday at the office in Plymouth, Mich., about 20 miles west of Detroit. Staff will act as case workers for individual businesses that seek assistance.

Tuesday marked Locke's fifth trip to Michigan since the former Washington governor became commerce secretary. He also planned to meet with Arab-American and Muslim community leaders in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn to discuss issues including economic development, trade and the census.

But Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said Locke, a Democrat, has little credibility discussing job creation in Michigan, which has continued to suffer along with its struggling auto industry. She said federal stimulus efforts, for example, have failed to create jobs.

"The Democrats' experiments have become obstacles for Michigan families and small businesses looking to get back on their feet," Kukowski said.

The governors association estimates that the Midwest has lost more than 1.2 million manufacturing jobs since 2000. Michigan's unemployment rate in August was more than 15 percent — the highest in the nation — while Ohio's was nearly 11 percent and Indiana and Illinois both had rates of about 10 percent.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat and chairwoman of the association, had been scheduled to speak along with Locke but stayed in Lansing on Tuesday to work on the state budget. She was expected to attend the forum Wednesday along with Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, another Democrat.

Participants are discussing agreements designed to help attract investment in clean energy and train workers. They include the Midwestern Energy Infrastructure Accord, which is designed to promote energy security, cut greenhouse gas emissions and encourage jobs in new manufacturing.

"The opportunity is so large," said Stanley "Skip" Pruss, director of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth.

The association also includes governors from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio and South Dakota. Organizers said those states were represented at the forum by other officials.

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