I am sure my political advisors, if I had any, would be telling me that I shouldn’t even think about running for mayor of Greenville. I’m not very popular there right now because of an essay a few weeks ago, after the Electrolux factory closed.
Greenville, a small town northeast of Grand Rapids, has had three major factories close in little over a year, eliminating thousands of jobs. That made me pessimistic about Greenville’s future.
And that made George Bosanic, the city manager, mad. “We have a clear vision and sound direction, and we are headed straight for it, so fasten your seatbelt,” he wrote back, adding that he did, in fact, have something to celebrate.
Not long after Electrolux ran off to Mexico, United Solar Ovonics announced a new factory in Greenville that would make solar panels and create more than two hundred jobs.
T he city manager said, “we did it with our can-do attitude,” adding that he was working closely with other high-tech companies and hoped to make other announcements soon.
Well, nothing would make me happier than to see Greenville flourish and prosper and prove me totally wrong. And the United Solar Ovonics plant is good news. If I were a gentleman, I probably wouldn’t point out that Greenville has still lost more than ten times as many jobs as the new plant will create.
Greenville has a long way to go. Yet the new plant is a start – and if towns like Greenville and states like Michigan are to have a future, it will be thanks to companies like United Solar Ovonics.
The background of United Solar is as fascinating a business story as there is in Michigan. It is a subsidiary of Energy Conversion Devices of Troy, whose chairman is Stanford Ovshinsky, a man who may turn out to be Michigan’s greatest scientist.
Stan Ovshinsky is the only man I have ever met whose name is in the dictionary. You can find it under Ovonics, a science he invented, based on the study of amorphous materials.
He invented, among other things, the nickel-metal-hydride battery that now powers laptop computers. He is hard at work on perfecting a hydrogen-powered car.
Last month, the President of the United States came to tour Energy Conversion Devices, where many of the rooms have his favorite artwork on the wall; the periodic table of the elements. But you won’t find any framed university degrees in Stan Ovshinsky’s office. That’s because he doesn’t have any. Not even a high school degree. He left school to take up tool and die work, and ended up a great scientist. I like to think Stan Ovshinsky will turn out to have been a metaphor for our state. Both have a rough-and-tumble background. Ovshinsky rose above that and built something new.
Let’s hope Michigan does the same.