Toledo's Makeover: Glass City to Solar Valley

Ohio city, battered by job losses, turns to solar power to reinvent itself.

ByABC News
December 16, 2008, 6:05 PM

Dec. 17, 2008— -- In Toledo, once the glass-making capital of the country, most of the city's output over the years has gone into making everything from windshields to windows for cars and buildings.

But as the auto and construction industries have declined, so too, has Toledo's manufacturing sector.

For Glen Eason, a manufacturing worker, supplying the auto industry meant waiting for the ax to fall.

"I've been scared to death for the past 10 years, to tell you the truth," said Eason, a Toledo native and 30-year auto supply industry veteran.

Marty Vick, 58, also spent 30 years working at an auto supplier, making seats and dashboards, only to see his job disappear. His company laid off 117 people in January.

"I never thought I'd see the day that GM, Ford and Chrysler would be at the brink of bankruptcy," Vick said.

That has left entire cities, including Toledo, on the brink. With its smokestack industries dying out, Toledo saw the writing on the wall and did something about it.

Watch the story tonight on "World News" at 6:30 p.m.

To secure its future, Toledo, once known as the Glass City, embraced its past; Toledo is where glass was first mass-produced for bottles, buildings, and cars. Now, the city is turning those skills -- and that tradition -- to the sun.

New solar energy-related businesses are taking hold in what city officials and local executives hope will become Ohio's "solar valley."

"We didn't envision there would be some bailout of Toledo, so we had to do it ourselves," said Norm Johnston, CEO of Solar Fields, a solar startup company. "We want to move from being the 'rust belt' to being the 'renewable energy belt.'"

Solar Fields is on the forefront of the fast-growing "green industry," supplying panels that help power a National Guard base. It is one of dozens of new companies in Toledo that now make rivers of glass into solar cells, panels and coatings.

"Our goal is to create jobs. What we like and what our favorite color is -- is green. But it's the green of cash that gives you good jobs," Johnston said.