07/23/2010 04:47 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Recovery Act in Action #8: Jobs in the Heartland

Our latest Recovery-Act-in-Action installment features some exciting new technology, 100 good-paying manufacturing jobs, and the public/private co-investment that is critical to job growth right now.

It's all taking place in Indianapolis, Indiana, where Allison Transmission is building a new factory to make hybrid systems that go into energy efficient trucks, buses and other commercial vehicles. The new plant, and the 100 folks Allison expects to put to work in it, was partially financed by a $62.8 million Recovery Act grant from the Department of Energy as part of their advanced battery grant program.

There's a lot to like about this project. Once the new plant is fully operational, it will crank out more than 20,000 hybrid propulsion systems each year. If you're like me, your reaction to that is a) wow!... and b) um, what's a hybrid propulsion system?

Laurie Tuttle, Allison's VP of Hybrid Programs, was kind enough to explain it to me. As I understand it, these are systems that take energy that a vehicle generates that would be otherwise wasted, and reuses that energy. For example, when a vehicle slows down, conventional breaks create friction and heat. "Regenerative breaking" recovers that energy and stores it in the battery for later use in acceleration or, on commercial vehicles, for other purposes like powering a boom on a utility truck.

That saves gas, so fuel efficiency in these hybrids are typically goosed by 25-30 percent.

Allison's long-range plan was to start developing these new systems over the next few years. But the Recovery Act grant, matched by about $68 million of capital from their private investors, enabled them to accelerate the production, creating jobs now when they're most needed, and giving our industry the head start it needs to be globally competitive in the production of clean energy transportation.

Ms. Tuttle tends to be pretty technical in discussing this stuff, but she got downright emotional when she described the positive impact this new investment is having on their community, telling me, "Goodness, to be able to bring these jobs right here to our heartland... it just feels great."

You don't see a lot of people getting all choked up about building systems that capture and recycle kinetic energy. But I think those of us who are rooting for new jobs in American manufacturing, lasting opportunities for middle-class workers, and energy efficiency are right with her on this one.

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