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International companies aren’t the enemy

A little over a week ago, officials with the City of Weirton organized a press briefing and site tour with representatives of the Frontier Group of Companies and others to announce a planned development project in the city.

The proposed creation of a solar farm on Brown’s Island has been rumored for a while, and now it appears to be moving forward. Planned to generate 40 megawatts of electricity, the facility would be a major investment and could attract numerous other businesses, which means job creation.

After the news broke, there were some comments detracting the idea of a solar farm in what has traditionally been an industrial community. The idea of “green energy” projects in a town known primarily for steel manufacturing doesn’t appeal to everyone.

I expected those comments, even though the steel industry hasn’t been thriving in the Ohio Valley for at least 30 years, and even then it was a shell of its former self. There are still some, however, who believe there is a way to bring one or two large manufacturing entities into a single location and provide tens of thousands of jobs. In their minds, anything beyond that is wrong and has no place in our region.

What surprised me, although it probably shouldn’t have given today’s political climate, were the comments against the project because of the companies involved.

One Sun is from New Mexico. It is set to manage the project, and has been involved in similar efforts across the country.

Yingli Solar, which is part of Yingli Green Energy Holding Company, is set to manufacture the solar panels for the project. It was established in 1997 and is among the world’s largest solar module manufacturers. It also is based in Baoding, China.

That appears to have been a sticking point for some of the critics of this project. Some of the comments online asked why the project couldn’t have involved an American manufacturer, while others were more pointed in bringing up that the company is from China.

I would wonder if those making that particular argument would have done so even five months ago. Is it a long-held concern, or something that has developed only as a result of stoked fears over recent events?

Our area was built on steel and other industries. It also was built by a melting pot of traditions and ethnicities which continues to this day. We are a region of immigrants. Industry came to our valley’s shores, and that industry brought people from around the world who were looking for jobs and opportunities to create a life for themselves. They were welcomed then, and they have continued to be welcomed for the last century.

We live in a global economy. No matter what politicians may promise, there isn’t a way to completely close ourselves off from world trade and international dealings. It’s also not anything new. Even in our nation’s earliest days, we needed to trade with other countries in order to acquire goods and services. How many products do you use today that are 100 percent from a single country? Your car? A favorite countertop appliance? The shirt you’re wearing right now? I’m willing to bet none of them.

This solar farm will create local jobs and opportunities for local residents. If it goes as expected, it could then attract other companies which will create more local jobs for local residents. Those companies might not be based in the U.S. either. Will you complain about them, too?

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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