Minnesota’s green economy: Pawlenty gets out-hustled by his peers in recruitment of green jobs

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In this three-part series, Minnesota Monitor examines the state’s efforts to build a greener industrial base and create new jobs in the process. Monday: When it comes to recruiting “green-collar” jobs to Minnesota, critics say Gov. Tim Pawlenty has had a lower profile than some of his peers. Tuesday: Minnesota’s point-person on wind industry economic development describes how the state is trying to generate green manufacturing jobs. Wednesday: A blown opportunity causes legislators to call for a better — and better funded — strategy for luring green manufacturers to Minnesota.

Each summer, thousands of wind-energy power players gather for a three-day conference featuring speeches, workshops and exhibitions from the biggest names in the industry. For states like Minnesota that are eager to attract wind-energy jobs, it’s a chance to make pitches to the major turbine manufacturers, many of which are based in Europe but are expanding to meet growing demand in the United States.

A typical strategy involves setting up a trade show booth and dispersing economic development employees with stacks of glossy folders touting financial incentives and quality-of-life issues. A handful of states such as Iowa, however, are upping the ante and dispatching governors to personally schmooze company officials at the events.

“That’s pretty hard to compete with. It’s pretty clear who you’re going to meet with first, and who you’re going to remember,” said Rep. Aaron Peterson, DFL-Appleton, who would like to see Gov. Tim Pawlenty follow the lead of some of his peers and play a more personal role in recruiting wind and other green manufacturing jobs to the state.

The use of governors to recruit wind companies is an indicator of the huge potential some see in the future “green economy.” As more states approve laws favoring energy efficiency and renewable electricity, the transition is expected to create a surge of demand for technologies like wind turbines, solar panels and the components that go into them.

And that means jobs. Potentially lots of them.

The mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul last week unveiled their strategy for attracting these “green-collar” jobs to the region. Some are questioning, though, whether the mayors’ effort will be limited in what it can accomplish without greater support from the state, and in particular from the governor’s office.

Pawlenty has supported some important renewable energy legislation and made the issue the focus of his time as chairman of the National Governors Association. He’s also, however, reportedly spent about one of every three days this year outside the state, much of it campaigning for John McCain. Some think he needs to spend more time stumping for Minnesota as a place for green jobs.

“What we’re looking for is the governor to get on board with green job creation. We haven’t heard that from him yet,” said Gerry Parzino, a representative of the United Steelworkers. Parzino’s organization will be canvassing fairs and other events across the state this summer seeking to build political support for a state-level green-jobs initiative. “We feel it has to go above [cities] and come down from the state.”

The governor’s communications office did not return a phone call for comment on this story.

Here’s are a few examples of what other governors are doing and how it’s paying off:

* Iowa Gov. Chet Culver manned the Iowa booth for an entire day at last year’s annual wind energy conference in Los Angeles. He also regularly leads delegations to Europe to meet with wind firms. Culver’s commitment follows in the footsteps of his predecessor, Tom Vilsack, and has helped lure five wind turbine manufacturers to set up facilities in the state, bringing 1,500 jobs and $185 million worth of investment.

* Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer was a keynote speaker at last year’s wind energy conference and has met personally with wind turbine manufacturers. Last month, German turbine manufacture Fuhrlander announced plans to build a $25 million plant in Butte that will employ 150 people and up to an additional 600 in the future.

* Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell’s state hosted a green jobs conference earlier this year. After meetings with Spanish wind firm Gamesa, the company decided to spend $84million building its U.S. headquarters in the state.

Rep. Peterson said he thinks it’s critical for Pawlenty to be more involved if Minnesota is going to be successful in attracting similar investment.

“If the governor’s not involved, Rybak and Coleman can do all this stuff. That’s great. The unions can talk about it, and everybody can get fired up about it and have a series of meetings that never end,” Peterson said, but “you need the governor to, for lack of a better way of putting it, to wine and dine these people. They’ve got lots of options of states that want them come to their state. You need to recruit them at the highest, highest level.”