Michigan presses green jobs agenda

September 21, 2009
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LANSING — With so many workers unemployed, manufacturers are beginning to look favorably at President Barack Obama’s idea of a greener future.

Michigan holds a huge stake in such discussions with unemployment at its highest level in 26 years.

Some organizations see “green” manufacturing as a path to economic salvation and security, but others — such as the Mackinac Center for Public Policy located in Midland, a free market oriented think tank — say they are worried about possible consequences.

On Sept. 2, Gov. Jennifer Granholm was joined by U.S. officials in Saginaw to solicit support for mandates requiring greener manufacturing.

Among those present was U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. “If we don’t lead, they will,” he said, “and all the jobs will go to China, and all the products we buy will be from China.”

Some companies across Michigan have already taken action. Among them is Royal Oak-based Bonal Technologies Inc. According to its sales manager, Greg Merritt, the growth spurt that the company has experienced in five years from creating a greener company has surpassed the growth it saw in the first 20 years of its existence.

Another such firm is Rochester Hill based technology firm ECD Ovonics. It develops alternative energy products such as hydrogen and solar power.

For education, Lawrence Technological University in Southfield has a Center for Sustainability, which offers courses and seminars that teach students and professionals about both the technological details and social concepts needed to create a sustainable future.

John Groen of the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth highlighted the Green Jobs Initiative and the state’s decision to offer $700 million in tax credits to encourage advanced battery technology development in the auto industry.

“Green jobs are here and they’re here to stay,” said Groen, a department communications officer.

According to the 2009 Michigan Green Jobs Report by the No Worker Left Behind program, building cleaner cars could comprise 40 percent of green jobs if the development of alternative fuels is successful.

The interim chief executive officer of General Motors, Fritz Henderson, agrees.

“GM and the auto industry will benefit by having more consistency and certainty to guide our product plans,” he said.

Whether green jobs will boost the economy is still a controversial issue.

“Mandating more expensive forms of alternative energy takes money out of the pocket of consumers and drives up business costs, resulting in the loss of jobs,” said Russell Harding of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

But Granholm insists the idea isn’t to completely replace current energy sources.

Chuck Hadden, chief executive officer of the Michigan Manufacturers Association, said he is hopeful there will be prosperity in the future of green jobs.

“We’re trying to get our members to look at every way they can diversify, and if building green cars is one, why not?” he said.

“I don’t know about the future more than anyone else does, but if I don’t encourage members to take that opportunity, I wouldn’t be doing my job, especially with all the federal money coming in.”

According to Groen, a $3 million federal grant through the No Worker Left Behind program to train Michigan workers for alternative energy jobs makes it hard to not give green jobs a chance.

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