Friday, September 2, 2011

Eco-nomics and Newspaper Economics: Solar Manufacturing

This is a post with two themes.  Both are based on the interesting article from the New York Times, which appears on the front page of the Oregonian's Business section today, on the bankruptcies of US solar manufacturers and the growth of the industry in China.  

The first is a theme that I have sounded on before:  I am worried about the future of solar manufacturing in the US and thus I am pretty pessimistic when I hear the rah-rah talk of local politicians about local manufacturers. Don't get me wrong, I rejoice when I hear about big investments by companies like SolarWorld and the jobs they bring, but I am not sure there is much of a future in their presence here unless it is in innovation and R&D and away from pure manufacturing. Perhaps this transition is already happening. I have no idea.  But I know about comparative advantage and right now in solar, China has it.

The second is a theme from this week - the troubling economics of daily newspapers.  I mention this here because of the fact that the Oregonian republished a NYTimes story with huge local implications - which is why, I am sure, they chose it for the front page.  But I can image a time not too long ago when the O would have assigned a business reporter to work the local angle on this.  Go to SolarWorld and get a response, talk to local politicians and get their take, etc.  But today what we get is the NYTimes piece verbatim without any mention of local impact.  

And why I bother talking about newspapers all the time is that these things matter a lot.  Many local politicians, many government development dollars, many state tax breaks have gone into bringing solar manufacturing here.  It is important that the public understand the implications of these decisions and are able to evaluate the decisions on their merits.  I can mention it all here and ponder what this may mean to our local economy, but I am not a reporter and I can't really give you any answers.


R said...

BJCefola said...

I understand your point about the loss of local coverage, but don't sell yourself (and fellow bloggers) short. The modern era offers vast opportunities for citizens to not only read, but through discussion process and understand "the news". And on the flip side, how many people in the old days would have read that detailed local story about solar power? Then as now, interested people find a way to pay attention and uninterested people do not.

As to that unwritten local angle story, a partial solution is for bloggers to not be shy about pursuing their interests. If you want to know what SolarWorld thinks of the bankruptcy stories, ask them! What is there to lose?

Cameron Mulder said...

Although i also lament the decline of the local newspaper I think there is more coverage about these types of issues than you might think.

I am pretty sure OPB did a piece on this and i think one of the local news channels did also.

Once you add up all the different places people get information today i don't think it is as dire as you might suspect. There are still issues around quality and objectivity but those have always been issues.

I would also not be as downbeat about solar cell manufacturing in the US. I think your arguments could easily apply to Intel but they have been growing in Oregon and I think a solar firm could do something very similar.