Lawmakers Tout Jobs

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U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown promotes solar energy at Columbus business.(Photo: Tom Borgerding / WOSU)
U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown promotes solar energy at Columbus business.(Photo: Tom Borgerding / WOSU)

As senators and members of congress spend  recess time in their districts. They are focusing sharply on the job market  and in some cases getting getting directly involved in efforts to boost employment.

Later today, republican congressman Steve Stivers will host a job fair on Ohio State’s main campus. Last week,  a similar event at Cleveland State University, also hosted by an Ohio congressional member drew more than 4,000 applicants.

Ohio’s unemployment rate straddles nine percent during the last several months. But, U.S. Senator from Ohio, democrat Sherrod Brown says among veterans the jobless rate is much  worse.

“The unemployment rate is something like 27 percent for veterans of that age,” Brown says. “And that’s just, that’s just something we should not tolerate in this country.”

Brown made his comments during an event at Flanagan’s on Sawmill road while touting a solar energy project, known as solar by soldiers.  A Dublin company, Tipping Point Renewable Energy employs military veterans to install solar panels for businesses  and local governments.

“All we want is an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.”

Don Bitler served as a member of the 101st Airborne. He’s been looking for work for nearly two years while stringing together some part time jobs.  He says he’s grateful for his new job.

“You, know, especially for the older vets. You know, I mean there’s compassion for veterans out there now, more so than when I was out, when I came in. I’m 55 years old,” Bitler says. “I was in on the Noriega thing. But I wasn’t in like what these guys were in.  And, when we got back, it was smoke and dust.”

Nicholas Anderson is a younger veteran. He served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. He had a job before deployment.  When he returned,  he said the job was gone.

“I had a job and that fell through when we got shipped off. When I came home there wasn’t anything really. I was dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, “Anderson says. “I got back into school. I’m working on that and this is just another way for me to better myself and get a better life.”

Anderson says he’s optimistic about his long-term job prospects in the renewable energy field. Even with a 27 percent unemployment rate among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan he anticipates even more competition for available jobs from other veterans  in the not-too-distant future.

“There’s going to be so many troops coming home, especially here real soon with all the drawdowns. And they’re looking for jobs. A lot of them, we were scared when we came home, that there wouldn’t be jobs for us. And a lot of us, that was the situation, there’s just not jobs here.”

But the source of future jobs is uncertain. Senator Brown holds that projects like the solar panel installation at Flanagan’s is a prime example of the federal government leveraging funds to stoke demand for both new materials and new jobs.

“What we were able to do on this solar project was give tax credits so this company invested it, put an architect to work, it put veterans to work building it. Its going to expand this business.” Brown says.”  “They bought equipment manufactured, not all of it I assume, but some of it in the United States of America. And that’s a direction we need to go.”

The northwest side project employs six veterans. But Tipping Point executive Darin Hadinger has plans to employ more. Hadinger  anticipates demand for renewable energy will grow and that will mean more jobs.

“We feel really, and I personally feel that alot of this has to be done in the private sector,” Hadinger says. “We’ve made that our goal. Every job we do, its a mandate that we have veterans and we bring them in and we train them.”

Hadinger says the pay for installing solar panels ranges from 15 to 20 dollars per hour.