The economy’s recovery won’t be quick, but the beginning could be close at hand, according to two Midwestern gas and power utility executives.

Michigan-based CMS Energy Corp. CEO David W. Joos told a New York conference Wednesday he is starting to see “some reabsorption of the workforce” in his state, which is among the nation’s hardest hit by unemployment. Some of those workers are finding jobs thanks to Michigan’s efforts to become a home to the clean energy sector, Joos said.

“There’s not enough data out there, but all the anecdotal things we’re seeing, all the things we talk to our customers about…it looks like the economy is starting to recover,” he said. “We expect it to be a slow ramp, though, and not some sort of spike.”

NiSource Inc. CEO Robert C. Skaggs Jr. shared a panel with Joos at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2009 Power & Gas Leaders Conference. He said his company’s utility operations — power in Indiana and gas in Kentucky, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia — generally enjoy a diverse industrial customer base and have “not been hammered by reductions” in the automotive sector. “Our base is diverse; it’s not dependent on one industry in particular,” he said.

However, utilization among large steel producers that the company’s utilities serve has been down 40-50%. But Skaggs said NiSource expects steel production will increase over the balance of the year.

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