The most recent government employment reports have been disappointing because they show a profound lack of job creation on the part of the private sector.
In addition to calling the health of the overall U.S. economy into question, many analysts say that the latest data raise troubling issues about the viability of clean technology as a positive force for 21st-century prosperity. After all, we've been told repeatedly that legions of new green-collar jobs will materialize and generate growth for communities all across the nation.
I believe the analysts are wrong; my view remains that the creation and proliferation of well-paying green-collar jobs in America will ultimately help us address the biggest employment crisis since the Great Depression.
In fact, after assessing a host of other statistics and reports, I think it's safe to forecast a far-reaching and broad-based green jobs revolution over the next decade.
When all is said and done -- from my perspective, at least -- the green jobs revolution will improve the economic quality of life in hard-hit states such as Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. It will boost prospects for a wide range of people who are currently electricians, plumbers, machinists, and sheet metal workers, not just the scientists, engineers and software programmers. It will help transform countless numbers of solid, established and much-needed blue-collar jobs, which anchor local communities today, and turn them green for the 21st century. And it will help spawn a new and muscular manufacturing sector here in the U.S. that will be globally competitive.
If you look closely and carefully, you can see tangible signs of the green jobs revolution starting to take hold everywhere today. Buildings are being retrofitted for greater energy efficiency; new energy systems are being installed; electric infrastructure is being rebuilt; and smart irrigation systems are being put in place.
This represents meaningful and next-generation work for -- among others -- many of the nation's 1.7 million truck drivers, 969,000 carpenters, and 400,000 welders. Indeed, I believe that over time the green-collar job revolution will eventually start to replace a good number of the 4.1 million blue-collar jobs we've lost in the United States since 1998.
My optimism about green collar job creation in the U.S. is based on four fundamental aspects of the latest available data, each of which reinforces important and supportive trends:
- Velocity - According to Pew Research, green-collar job growth is running at about 2.5 times overall job growth in America. Between 1998 and 2007, green collar jobs grew 9.1 percent in the U.S., while overall jobs grew 3.7 percent. In Tennessee, which has created jobs in recycling, waste treatment, and water management, for example, green collar jobs grew more than 18 percent from 1998 to 2007, far outstripping the 2.5 percent growth for all jobs. This same trend was evident in 38 states, plus the District of Columbia, between 1998 and 2007, and there is no reason to believe that it has abated.
- Maturity - By 2007, says Pew, nearly 70,000 businesses in the U.S. had created 770,000 green-collar jobs with little or no government subsidy or stimulus; compare that 770,000 figure to the 1.27 million overall employment total in the fossil-fuel industry, which includes utilities, coal-mining, and oil and gas. This "old energy" sector has received substantial government support for decades, so it's probably fair to say that green collar job creation, still in its infancy, has plenty of upside room to grow -- with or without government backing.
- Investment - We know that state, local and federal governments are now investing in clean energy initiatives, but so are the players in the capital markets. During the first quarter of 2010, for example, global venture capital and private equity new investment in clean energy doubled versus the first quarter of 2009; clean energy currently represents the largest share of venture capital investments, eclipsing investments in software, medical devices and biotechnology. This private capital flow is funding new clean energy companies, which will, in turn, create green collar jobs.
- Regulatory Mandates - President Obama has said that he wants 25 percent of our nation's energy to be renewable by 2025. But the states have been busy shaping energy policy, too. Right now, 46 states are using tax incentives to help boost renewable energy companies; 32 states offer financing or loans for companies seeking to expand their renewable energy presence; 22 states provide rebates for renewable energy activities; 29 states and the District of Columbia have established renewable portfolio standards; and 19 states have embraced energy efficiency standards. No matter how you feel about the public sector, it's pretty clear that these policies will lead to big changes in the private sector that will result in many more green collar jobs in coming years. One key outcome will be seen in the construction and real estate sectors, which will help retrofit 75 percent of all U.S. buildings for greater energy efficiency by 2030.
As I survey the present landscape, and look over the horizon to the future, I see three main ways that our country will continue to create green collar jobs.
The first way is through transformation. This means re-orienting a company or business so it operates on a clean, green basis or meets new clean, green market needs.
At the Port of Seattle, which I lead, we've developed one of the cleanest and most energy efficient ports in North America, a green gateway with the lowest carbon footprint for goods traveling between Asia and the Midwest. But we've also demonstrated that America's ports can help add a green hue to meaningful, ongoing and valuable blue-collar work.
Indeed, the Port of Seattle has supported more than 200,000 family-wage jobs, generated nearly $18 billion in business revenues, delivered close to $900 million in annual state and local tax revenues, and invested $54 million to help small businesses at the same time that we've reduced emissions, removed contaminated sediment, restored shoreline, and created parks and wetlands.
Hemlock Semiconductor Corporation is another good example of how green-collar jobs are being created. The world's largest producer of polysilicon, a key material in photovoltaic devices like solar panels, Hemlock has doubled its workforce in Michigan, and will open a new plant in Tennessee in 2012.
Johnson Controls, which creates products, services and solutions to optimize energy and operational efficiencies in buildings, is also a bellwether worth noting. Based on anticipated demand, the 125-year-old company says it expects to hire 60,000 new green-collar employees around the world over the next decade.
The second way that we will create green-collar jobs is through leadership. And here there is no greater example than Wal-Mart, which happens to be one of the Port of Seattle's largest customers.
When it comes to sustainability, Wal-Mart has definitely set some aggressive and ambitious goals for itself. It intends to double its fleet's efficiency in the U.S. by 2015 from 2005 levels, for example; the retail behemoth has already achieved a 60 percent increase in fleet efficiency over the past five years.
But Wal-Mart wants to go further, and it has taken the high road in terms of green-collar job creation by setting up and funding a Green Jobs Training Initiative that serves communities from coast to coast. It has also established a Green Jobs Council, a partnership with many of its leading sustainability suppliers to facilitate the creation of green jobs in the United States.
The third way that we will create green-collar jobs is through insourcing.
Gamesa, based in Spain and one of the world's largest wind energy developers, has several plants in Pennsylvania, for example, and employs several hundred green-collar workers there.
Meanwhile, Milwaukee, which has lost 55,000 local manufacturing jobs over the last decade, recently announced that Ingeteam, a Spanish supplier to the wind and solar industries, had selected the Wisconsin city as the site of a new production facility.
Right now, two-thirds of all green collar jobs in America are in the energy conservation and pollution mitigation area, but capital is rapidly moving into clean energy, energy efficiency, and environmentally friendly products and services. Meanwhile, many existing blue-collar jobs that truly matter to families and communities all across the country are turning green.
These are the next waves of the green collar job revolution. And, if we're fortunate and far-sighted, I believe that this revolution can lift our nation higher -- much higher -- as it reaches for even greater prosperity in the decades to come.
Tay Yoshitani is CEO of the Port of Seattle.