Recovery Act in Action -- In the Right Place at the Right Time

06/29/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Jared Bernstein Fmr. Obama administration economist; CNBC and MSNBC contributor

This episode of 'The Recovery Act in Action' takes place in Barre, Vermont, where SBE, Inc., an electronics firm that builds capacitors for batteries, is breaking ground on a brand new factory.

The thing is, that groundbreaking almost took place in China.

SBE's owners were seriously considering opening this factory abroad until the Recovery Act stepped in and changed their minds. The firm received a $9 million grant from the Act's Electric Drive Vehicle Battery and Component Manufacturing Initiative (and yes, we need to work on the names of these things) toward SBE's $18 million new plant.

The factory is going to produce "Power Ring" capacitors, designed to increase the efficiency of hybrid and electric vehicles. SBE expects the plant to have the capacity to support 100,000 electric vehicles within three years, but this technology should also be useful in producing wind and solar energy. (Feed your inner engineer by going here -- I, for one, was happy to see that these capacitors provide "extreme current pulse survival.")

And it's going to employ people -- SBE expects to hire 100 workers for the new plant, possibly rising to 300 by 2015 depending on where demand is headed for this stuff (which, in my humble opinion, is straight up).

These are good jobs. I spoke to SBE's CEO, Ed Sawyer, and he told me the new factory would employ technicians, machine operators, and inspectors, as well as office personnel.

Most importantly, they're good jobs. And they're here in this country, not somewhere else. I asked Ed about what changed SBE's plan to build the factory in China.

"We were preparing to go to China," he said. The problem, he told me, was that they lacked the capital they needed to build the highly automated domestic plant required to offset the labor cost advantage in China. But with the Recovery Act grant, "We were able to build a factory that would match unit costs, and that made all the difference."

It's a great example of the Recovery Act making the right investment at the right time. The result is an American company keeping good jobs here while partnering with private capital to build the clean energy infrastructure at the heart of President Obama's vision to reform US energy use and production.

It's enough to push your current pulse survival rate into extreme range.