Rebuild the U.S. manufacturing sector through green technology? If you’re a pessimist, you may immediately respond, “Yeah, tell that to the Chinese”… and use this month’s news of Evergreen Solar moving its factory from Massachusetts to China as evidence. Yes, China’s got a healthy lead on the renewable energy manufacturing front, but all’s not glum on this side of the Atlantic.
Earlier this month, the Environmental Law & Policy Center released a report on the growth of renewable energy manufacturing in Ohio. Sure, the Buckeye State may not be the most well-established in terms of green tech, but the report lays out a unique mix of policy, history, and vision that have led to job growth in the wind and solar sector in Ohio.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Ohio’s approach is that it focused on the supply chains for these technologies. While there are instances of companies in the state that assemble and install wind turbines and solar systems, much of the job growth has resulted from production of components for these systems, a natural fit for a state with an established manufacturing infrastructure.
Companies like Cincinnati’s Cast-Fab Technologies, Inc. and Canton’s Timken have been able to make a relatively seamless entry into the renewable technologies market, and create jobs in the process. State investment in these jobs, as well as a renewable energy portfolio standard, have also contributed to job creation in this sector.
So, what kind of job growth are we talking about? On the one hand, the numbers look small on the surface: currently, there are 7,500 workers in the wind industry, and 1,500 in solar in Ohio. On the other, ELPC notes that “renewable energy is one of the fastest-growing business sectors for job creation” in the state, and that increasing demand for wind turbines puts Ohio behind only California in terms of job growth.
If the pundits and politicians are right, and a thriving manufacturing sector based in green technology is our best hope for sustained economic recovery, Ohio may turn out to be a model for Rust Belt states. Maybe making gears and bearings isn’t quite as sexy as building turbines and systems themselves, but it seems to be putting people to work in a state hard hit by both our recent economic woes, and the general decline of American manufacturing.
Know of similar stories around the US? Companies, or even regions, retooling for renewables? Let us know about them…
Image: Refurbished Vestas turbine in downtown Cleveland Credit: Tom Maves and NREL/DOE