Going green and blue: millions ready to gain in new economy

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More than 300,000 Minnesotans – and millions across the United States – are poised to take advantage of new job opportunities in the growing “green” economy, according to a new report released by a group of labor and environmental organizations.

The groundbreaking report, Job Opportunities for the Green Economy, takes a state-by-state look at existing jobs skills across a wide range of occupations and income levels that would benefit from America’s transition towards a clean energy economy. The report quantifies the number of workers who can apply their skills to six categories of green industries – building retrofitting, mass transit, fuel-efficient automobiles, wind power, solar power, and cellulosic biomass fuels.

Researchers Robert Pollin and Jeanette Wicks-Lim of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst studied employment conditions in Minnesota and 11 other states – Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin. While the report focuses on specific states, it shows that the vast majority of green jobs are in the same areas of employment that people already work in today, in every region and state of the country.

“Over 300,000 existing potential green jobs in Minnesota are highlighted in this report alone,” commented Stacy Boots of the Sierra Club, “and this is only a small sample selection. For instance, operations managers are needed to manufacture energy-efficient automobiles. There are nearly 32,000 operations managers in Minnesota, paid an average of over $42 per hour. By investing in a clean, renewable energy economy, thousands more of these family supporting jobs would be created.”

Hundreds of thousands of workers in the U.S. already possess the vast majority of skills and occupations necessary to reduce global warming and make the shift to a clean energy economy, the researchers said. For instance, constructing wind farms creates jobs for sheet metal workers, machinists and truck drivers, among many others. Increasing the energy efficiency of buildings through retrofitting relies on roofers, insulators and electricians, to name a few.

“Green jobs” are defined in the report as occupations that contribute toward building or producing goods to achieve a ‘green’ marketplace. At the same time, it links the idea that green jobs should be sustainable employment opportunities — that is, jobs that pay at least a living wage, offer training and promotional opportunities and some measure of security.

Iron Workers see benefit

In Minnesota, members of Iron Workers Local 512 already are seeing the benefits of the move toward a green economy, said Norm Voorhees, a representative in the union’s Duluth-Superior office.

Some Local 512 members unload equipment for wind turbines at the Duluth port, while others are part of the crews that erect the towers on wind farms around the state. Voorhees estimated that as many as 150 Iron Workers could be working such “green” jobs this year, with that number growing.

“It’s really exciting to see all this wind energy coming in,” Voorhees said in a telephone news conference announcing the new report. “It means a lot of work for the Iron Workers in that industry. We continue to train new apprentices and bring that wind-energy training into our program.”

Training is key

Finding enough skilled workers will be one of the key factors in how quickly the nation can grow a green economy, said John Dunlop, senior technical outreach engineer for the American Wind Energy Association.

Most jobs outlined in the report require at least two years of training, he said. “We need to ramp that up immediately in order to continue to supply enough skilled workers.”

Renewable energy of all kinds is growing, with wind energy leading, Dunlop said. Researchers predict 20 percent of the nation’s electricity could be provided by wind power by the year 2030, he said.

Not long ago, renewable energy sources were still considered expensive and experimental. Those views have changed as energy demands have skyrocketed across the globe, oil prices have jumped dramatically and concern about climate change grows.

“The investment community has really changed their tune,” said Dunlop. “We’re finding investors are anxious to invest in this technology.”

Workers, communities benefit

That’s good news for both workers and communities hit hard in recent decades by the loss of good-paying jobs.

“We have three unemployed Minnesotans for every job opening in greater Minnesota,” said Diane O’Brien, communications director for the Minnesota AFL-CIO. “We welcome the potential of creating good-paying jobs in a green economy.”

The Duluth port handled its first shipment of wind turbine components in 2004 and “it’s grown every year since,” said Ron Johnson, trade development director for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. “It’s been a big plus” for the local economy.

The report was released in cooperation with the Green Jobs for America Campaign, a national campaign of the Sierra Club, Blue Green Alliance, United Steelworkers and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

For more information
View the full report and more resources at www.bluegreenalliance.org/gjfa