States green economy alive and growing

June 15, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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As green businesses continue to pop up or expand in West Michigan, more data from major research into existing green jobs here and across the U.S. indicates that the signs of green in Michigan aren't just spring fever.

On June 10, the respected Pew Charitable Trusts released an in-depth report showing Michigan ranks high among "clean energy" job creation, and a report on green jobs in Michigan that was released by a state agency in May breaks down all the increasing green jobs potential in the state's economy.

The Pew report, "The Clean Energy Economy: Repowering Jobs, Businesses and Investments Across America," states that while Michigan has lost jobs since 2000, it is one of 12 states that have "large and growing clean energy economies." Others states with Michigan are California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

Four states also have large clean energy economies but are losing jobs in that sector, those being Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

The Pew analysis, which is not based on estimates but counts actual jobs, businesses and investments in the clean energy economy, defines it as one that expands clean energy production, increases energy efficiency, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, waste and pollution, and conserves water and other natural resources.

According to the Pew study, Michigan's "clean jobs" grew by 10.7 percent from 1998 through 2007, while the overall number of jobs declined by 3.6 percent during that same period. More than $55 million in venture capital went into the clean energy economy in Michigan from 2006 through 2008.

The Pew research concludes that as of 2007, there were 1,932 clean businesses and almost 23,000 clean energy jobs in the Automotive State.

On a national level, jobs in the clean energy economy grew at a rate of 9.1 percent from 1998 through 2007, while total jobs grew by 3.7 percent.

In May, the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth published results of its survey showing that semiconductor manufacturing, recyclable material wholesalers and environmental consulting industries in the state have actually added jobs, while other green-related industries, and Michigan industry in general, have recorded job losses since 2004.

MDELG's Michigan Green Jobs Report 2009 defines the state's "green economy" as industries that provide products or services in five areas: agriculture and natural resource conservation; clean transportation and fuels; increased energy efficiency; pollution prevention or environmental cleanup; and renewable energy production.

The total number of green jobs in Michigan, as defined by MDELG, are equal to about 3 percent of the 3.2 million total jobs in the state's private sector, according to the Green Jobs report.

In a statement she released with the report, Gov. Jennifer Granholm said "clean energy, green economy" jobs "will reshape our economy and accelerate our recovery."

MDLEG has launched a $6 million Green Jobs Initiative that supports employers with help training workers for the emerging renewable energy and green jobs industries. Granholm said the findings in the Green Jobs Report, from data provided by Michigan employers, will help Michigan business capture the full potential of the green economy.

She cited Michigan's advanced manufacturing experience, abundant natural resources, R&D initiatives and skilled work force as assets that will make the state "the renewable energy hub of North America and the advanced-battery capital of the world."

According to the survey data from Michigan employers:

  • There are more than 109,000 green jobs in Michigan (counting both direct and support jobs).

  • Forty percent of direct green jobs are in clean transportation and fuels, and engineers are a major occupational segment in that area.

  • "Green skills" are a vital additional skill set needed by employees, but many jobs may be becoming greener, requiring advanced training for those jobs.

Green jobs were most common in the following industries in Michigan:

  • Transportation Equipment Manufacturing (25,780 jobs)

  • Professional, Scientific and Technical Services (22,178)

  • Specialty Trade Contractors (9,825)

  • Construction of Buildings (3,571)

Two companies cited in the Pew study as examples of the clean energy economy in Michigan were Microposite in Auburn Hills and Quantum Technologies in Sterling Heights. Microposite designs and manufactures energy-efficient siding, and Quantum Technologies develops and produces fuel cell technology for alternative fuel vehicles.

The Pew study noted that Michigan has lost jobs since 2000 as the domestic automobile companies faltered and lost market share. By March, Michigan's unemployment rate was the highest in the U.S. at 12.6 percent — "an increase of 5 percentage points in just one year," according to the report, which added, "Today, the clean energy economy is a central component of Michigan's recovery strategy."

The Pew report numbers include workers who manufacture hybrid cars and buses, technicians who construct wind turbines, electricians who install solar panels, and engineers doing research in fuel cell technology. It does not include all autoworkers, electricians, technicians and engineers, and is focused only on producers and suppliers in the clean energy economy.

West Michigan has lately experienced an increase in green products manufacturing, such as small wind turbines by EarthTronics in Muskegon and solar water heater panels by Digital Tool & Die in Grandville. Other companies involved in clean energy manufacturing range from Cascade Engineering, which is assembling and selling a roof-mountable wind turbine, to United Solar Ovonic LLC in Greenville, which produces photovoltaic cells for generating electricity from the sun.

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