Special Reports
How Clean Tech Will Bring Manufacturing Jobs Back to U.S.

By Michael Kanellos
November 1, 2007

The clean-technology revolution will likely make a lot of people in Silicon Valley
rich, but it's also going to help bring back some of the factory jobs that have disappeared.

Why? Weight, for one thing, explains Kevin Surace, CEO of Serious Materials,
which recently landed $50 million in funding to build factories for its
eco-friendly drywall.

Although labor is cheaper in China, shipping costs are going up, primarily
because of fossil fuels.

"You could spend $2 to $3 a panel just to ship it (drywall), and that's just to
get it to the dock. You'd then have to spend another $3 to $4 to ship it by
rail," he said. "You can't do that if you plan to sell it for $10 to $20 a board."

As a result, Serious Materials will open its first factory, which will be
capable of churning out 400,000 square feet of drywall a year, in the United
States. It will likely also build its next two factories in the States as well,
regionally spaced out to serve different markets.

Shipping materials from China also "blows the whole point about zero carbon
dioxide," he added. "You're on the wrong side of the energy curve."

State governments are also offering substantial incentives--free rent in
industrial parks, tax holidays, loans, grants--to woo these companies. "States
do not want to be left out of the next industrial revolution," Surace said.
Some of the most aggressive states include New York, California, and New Mexico.

The heartening part of all of this is that Surace isn't alone. Bruce Jamerson,
CEO of Mascoma, which wants to make cellulosic ethanol, has said the same thing.

Mascoma is building plants in Michigan, New York, and Tennessee because that's
where the wood chips and vegetable matter are. Several analysts have said
shipping is one of the big barriers for Chinese solar-panel makers.

Granted, it's not like these companies are staying in the States because the CEO
woke up one day to a Bob Seger song playing on the radio and started getting
misty-eyed over the disappearance of the industrial heartland. They are being
encouraged to stay stateside in part because of subsidies.

But other factors--like shipping costs, the low prices of their products, and
the proximity to local markets--could conspire to get the manufacturing arm of
the country moving again.


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