CLEVELAND – Here in Cleveland we have a real battle firing up and it is going to be very illuminating when the facts come to light! Whenever a large city presents a contract for bid to supply the lighting for the streetlights, traffic lights, and other fluorescent lamps used in the buildings and streets of the city, it can become a hotly debated political drama.
What are the political ramifications?
Here is the situation, current Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has been trying to push a new lighting contract through council for many months now and has been pretty well blocked in this direct effort. His agenda was to give a ten year No-Bid lighting contract to a Chinese company called “Sunpu-Opto Semiconductor Ltd.” in exchange for them setting up manufacturing of their LED bulbs here in Cleveland. Their promise is that with the ten year contract to supply and manage the municipal lighting in Cleveland they will put 350 jobs into an LED factory within Cleveland.
What kind of jobs could this bring?
Some say that these will be low paying factory jobs, but to some folks who are unemployed that is nothing to scoff at! The trouble came when it was proposed at a council meeting that Mayor Frank Jackson wanted to go directly to this company without taking the project out for competitive bid which is customarily done in these cases. This more than ruffled some feathers and the battle was on!
What is the current status?
Now that council and other parties who stand to lose out if this goes to a Chinese company are protesting the move, the bid method is back in play. The list of opponents is growing quickly and includes General Electric, who has supplied the lighting contract in the past. As a result of the outcry the Mayor tabled the discussion, but has recently reopened it by setting the contract out for bid, however the terms of the contract are decidedly geared towards the Chinese LED manufacturing company. Within the City of Cleveland Council meeting minutes as the first order of business under the “emergency ordinance” provision, they have entered into the Ordinance docket as Ord. No. 829-10.
Were there any tricks in the wording?
Reading this ordinance was very enlightening because the 350 jobs for ten years are not really going to happen. That is because the ordinance gives whomever wins the bid 60 months to employ the 350 people only for the remainder of the contract which is another 60 months. Now the real kicker, the actual verbiage states clearly that the bid winning company is only required to employ “at least” 30% workforce from the Cleveland area! This means they could quite possibly create only 105 jobs for folks who live directly in Cleveland and still meet the contract terms. To me this is not what they are publicizing in the media, in fact these critical points have all been glossed over at the major news outlets in the area.
How can this one company help Cleveland?
In a sense I believe that this can be a highly visible test case for both the LED technology and also for the local economy. If Cleveland can once again attract businesses which actually manufacture something useful then perhaps Cleveland can also manufacture the big turn around that this area desperately needs!
What is happening in the area right now?
On a recent trip down to our world renowned Playhouse Square to see the Phantom of the Opera it was hard to miss the devastation of the business base in that corridor between Willoughby, Euclid, and Downtown Cleveland. It is literally abandoned, with more than 100 businesses that were thriving 25 years ago either moved away or closed down permanently!
What trickle down reactions could occur?
This is a very sad thing to witness and I for one feel that anything you can do to attract new manufacturing here is a boon. That being said it does not seem fair to hand over an important contract based on a promise of a new factory and new jobs. What is not being said is how this could affect the companies who were supplying these lights and maintenance previously? Granted GE is still a mega corporation and probably can take a small hit like this but is it always going to be able to do that? One fact that must be considered is that currently GE does not manufacture the kind of LED bulbs that the city wants to purchase, so this could light a fire at GE to get them into this LED game! It would not surprise me one bit to see GE purchase this Chinese LED company before long!
Where will it go from here?
I am very interested in the outcome of this battle as I see these newer high output LED bulbs as being one of the most significant energy saving inventions of our time. If the city of Cleveland could save even Just 5% on their electric bills they could maintain a larger number of service jobs such as police and fire services instead of cutting back and laying off important workers! Of course this effect is primarily due to losing tax revenue when business close down, and unemployed workers lose their homes and leave the area in search of work elsewhere. Cleveland is not alone in the very green effort as cities and towns across the country are scrambling to get the savings in place that these LED lights provide.
How will it end?
So in summary it is not a far fetched idea that these LED’s could help shed some light on a whole new era of manufacturing in Cleveland and surrounding communities! What will be interesting will be attending the next Cleveland City Council meeting where the bidding companies proposals will be discussed and perhaps even voted on! One day the city will have own up to their balance sheet and see what effects have come directly from decisions like these!
City of Cleveland Council meeting minutes from August 18, 2010
Sunpu-Opto Semiconductor Ltd.