When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived at SunPower Corp.’s local manufacturing plant facility Wednesday, he briskly walked the production floor, watching solar energy panels being pressed and shaped.
Green technology, he told a gaggle of news cameras and reporters moments later, must be a main driver in breaking the state’s economic malaise.
“I am here because of the great technology that is being developed here,” Schwarzenegger said to a crowd that included a handful of SunPower employees. “But also because of job creation … my top priority is jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Schwarzenegger held the news conference as part of a statewide push to tout his recently proposed jobs package. He spoke in a massive former Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant, the largest ever built on the West Coast.
Today the waterfront facility houses a number of smaller, cleaner enterprises, including SunPower and a popular eatery. The governor toured the solar panel manufacturing plant in part to talk about his recent proposal to cease all sales tax on green technology manufacturing equipment.
California is currently one of only three states that charges sales tax on purchases of green technology manufacturing equipment, Schwarzenegger said. He added that he has been traveling “up and down” the state stumping for elements of his economic plan.
“It doesn’t make us competitive,” Schwarzenegger said of charging sales tax on capital investments in what he called the “clean tech” sector.
The governor’s office issued a fact sheet that claimed his jobs program will “create or retain” 100,000 jobs statewide.
“It’s important to recognize that we cannot bring our economy back, we cannot bring our revenues back, if we don’t have jobs for all Californians,” Schwarzenegger said.
Schwarzenegger said the state was mired in a 12.4 percent unemployment rate, about 20 percent higher than the national average.
“We need jobs now,” Schwarzenegger said. The governor added that he expected the legislature to move quickly on his proposals. “I want to urge them that it has now been three weeks since I made my announcement of my job initiative.”
SunPower CEO Tom Werner, Silicon Valley Leadership Group representative Mike Mielke and California Conference of Carpenters Director Danny Curtin also spoke in favor of the governor’s jobs plan. The proposal has a number of other provisions, including: A $3,000 payment to employers who hire previously unemployed state residents; new job training funds; and an extension of the tax credit for new home buyers.
But it was the sales tax exemption that took center stage Wednesday. The industry leaders on hand said slashing the sales tax would stimulate investment.
“He gets that you can improve the environment, you can improve energy security and you can create jobs by encouraging the use of solar,” Werner said.
SunPower also produces solar panels in San Jose, Irvine and Chino.
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin introduced Schwarzenegger after her own brief presentation on Richmond. McLaughlin, a member of the Green Party, said the city was on the “cutting edge” of green technology, and mentioned a handful of other local companies producing environmentally-friendly, energy conserving products. She said the city is home to “30 to 40” green businesses.
“We know these businesses are helping transform Richmond economically and environmentally,” McLaughlin said.
According to the governor’s office, California is home to more than 10,000 clean technology companies that would benefit from the sales tax exemption.
Labor and Workforce Development Agency Secretary Victoria Bradshaw said clean technology producers will continue to outperform other industries.
“Between 1995 and 2008, clean tech jobs grew at 36 percent while the overall jobs only grew at 13 percent,” Bradshaw said. “And in the year 2007 to 2008, clean jobs continued to grow at 5 percent when overall jobs declined 1 percent. So we see a great future for California’s economy in the green and clean tech industry sectors.”