State grant to fund training in alternative energy sector

November 7, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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MUSKEGON — The West Michigan Strategic Alliance is working to create a Regional Skills Alliance focused on preparing workers for jobs in the alternative energy sector, such as manufacturing of solar panels or jobs at commercial wind farms. The initiative will be known as West Michigan Green Jobs RSA.

A meeting in Muskegon last week involving one of the world's best-known manufacturers of commercial wind turbines showed many area companies that there might be work for them in alternative energy manufacturing.

The Regional Skills Alliance effort is funded by a $20,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, which administers the Michigan Regional Skills Alliances program.

“Essentially, we will work with employers to determine what skills are in demand in the alternative energy sector,” said Greg Northrup, West Michigan Strategic Alliance president. “Then we’ll work with colleges and intermediate school districts to help provide education and skills training for West Michigan residents to be able to obtain these new jobs.”

Planning for the West Michigan Green Jobs RSA will be led by regional employers, which started last week with the meeting at the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center in Muskegon. The event, hosted by The Right Place Program, was promoted as "Alternative and Renewable Energy Manufacturing 101."

More than 100 Michigan companies were registered for the meeting, said Northrup, many drawn there, no doubt, by the fact that purchasing executives from Vestas were also in attendance.

Vestas, a Danish company known worldwide for the utility-grade wind turbines it manufactures, is building a manufacturing plant in Colorado, where it anticipates producing 1,400 turbines per year. Many commercial wind farms around the world use Vestas turbines, which can generate up to two and three megawatts of electricity.

Northrup noted that Vestas turbines have more than 50 subassemblies with many different types of components. He said there were a lot of interested component suppliers at the Muskegon meeting.

"Today was a great opportunity for these companies to meet directly with the Vestas purchasing people, to understand exactly what their needs were," said Northrup.

"I think a lot of the former automotive or office furniture suppliers are actually starting to see that there is real opportunity in this alternative energy market, a chance for diversification of their product mix," he said.

The West Michigan Green Jobs RSA group, representing employers, manufacturing councils, colleges, and Michigan Works! agencies in the eight-county region, will conduct a green jobs market analysis for West Michigan and then construct a set of specific objectives with a timeline and budget to achieve them.

The Michigan Regional Skills Alliances program was introduced by Granholm in 2004. There are now more than 30 such alliances statewide, comprised of regional groups of businesses, educators, and work force and economic developers. MiRSA helps employers identify and address work force challenges to increase competitiveness, including work force development assistance with job training grants, tuition reimbursement scholarships and career fairs.

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