New technology, opportunities make green job growth a target

June 22, 2009
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This month Gov. Jennifer Granholm held court in Washington, D.C., with Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood as part of a multi-state gubernatorial effort to claim federal stimulus funds for a Midwest high-speed rail line that could connect Detroit and Chicago. But Michigan’s governor brought more to the table, adamant about filling the state’s emptying automotive factories with an existing knowledge base and capacity to make railcars.

It would be one more opportunity for the Motor City and River City to retool, in what now has enough stimulus funding to be called the new green economy.

The Pew Charitable Trusts last month released an in-depth report on Michigan’s high ranking in “clean energy” job creation, showing this state to be one of 12 with “large and growing clean energy economies.” The study did not base findings on estimates: It used actual job counts in five economic sectors including agriculture and natural conservation, clean transportation and fuels, increased energy efficiency, pollution prevention or environmental cleanup and renewable energy production.

The Pew report also showed that even as Michigan’s overall private sector employment declined by 5.4 percent, green jobs increased by 7 percent. What should be stressed here is that the governor’s bid for railcar manufacturing would be considered part of a “ripple effect” of those specific sectors. And it shows that “spin off” jobs could, in fact, be dominant sectors of Michigan’s economy. The governor noted when the Pew study was issued by the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth that “clean energy, green economy jobs will reshape our economy and accelerate our recovery.”

West Michigan already is experiencing such acceleration, having prepared and retooled — even before stimulus funds were available — for this enlarging piece of the economy, along with medical device manufacturing and technology. The latter, like most other sectors, slowed for lack of capital — and that is an issue that will continue to drag down opportunities.

Still, the Business Journal reports daily and weekly on a great number of regional businesses increasingly involved in green product manufacturing. Feyen Zylstra LLC, for example, has linked with The Green Panel, a solar energy equipment distributor in Brighton that designs solar energy installations and supplies the equipment. The Grand Rapids company, founded in 1980, has installed photovoltaic systems in central and eastern Michigan, working with Green Panel. Chief Operating Officer Nate Koetje noted, “We are aggressively moving forward in what we'll describe as a new economy."

All aboard.

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