With the highest unemployment rates in the country, Michigan is in dire need of an effective economic revival strategy. The state is looking to green jobs largely to realize this, with an emphasis on clean energy.
I recently interviewed Stanley “Skip” Pruss, Director of the Michigan Department of Labor & Economic Growth and the former Deputy Director of the Department of Environmental Quality. He holds a strong vision for transforming the Michigan economy, while leveraging its strengths.
Sarah Lozanova: Why are green jobs a good tool for economic development?
Stanley “Skip” Pruss: We think there is a lot of evidence that green jobs provide a great opportunity to diversify our economy, secure new investment, and ultimately build new jobs. The reason is that there are several interrelated drivers that make this trajectory irresistible.
In Michigan, we are decades overdue to diversify our economy. We were overly dependent on one industry essentially. The world from our perspective is on the cusp of a global clean energy revolution. That provides great opportunities, and not only just for Michigan, because the opportunity will be so robust and sustained.
SL: Do you know how many green jobs there are currently in Michigan?
SP: By our account, since 2005, Michigan has created 109,000 green jobs. The green jobs sector of Mchigan’s economy has expanded by 7.7%, while Michigan’s economy has contracted by 5.4% in the same time period.
SL: Why are green jobs a good match for boosting the Michigan economy?
SP: We are heavily invested in a green jobs strategy. Governor Granholm has made this an imperative. We believe that the opportunity is so large that essentially the entire world is going to benefit from investment in clean technologies. We feel that we have strengths and tools, many related to our legacy strengths in the automobile sector that enable us to be positioned well for the green technology future. We graduate far more engineers than any other state per capita, we have great research universities, we have more research and development technology centers than any other state (330) and they are transitioning to the green energy space.
Wind, solar, advanced energy storage, and bioenergy are our focus. We believe that to capture the advanced energy storage technology sector is an absolute imperative. The U.S. imports 13 million barrels of oil per day for transportation fuels. We were about to add permanently to that, a dependence on lithium ion technology and other evolving energy storage technologies if we didn’t act.
We embarked upon a strategic plan to capture that sector and we feel we really have. We now have a great many of the world’s top energy storage technology firms that will have a presence in Michigan. We were able to capture $1.36 billion of $2.4 billion in federal grant stimulus dollars. We have: Johnson Controls, LG Chem, Xtreme Power, Toda America, A123, Sakti3, Fortu, Dow Kokam, and Ford and GM that will all be adding manufacturing capacity in Michigan. [Advancing energy storage] is also a lifeline to our automobile industry, as they move to electrify their vehicle lines.
SL: Are any of the new manufacturing plants going to utilize vacant plants or will they be constructing new facilities?
SP: They will be using both. The most notable example is the Ford Wixom plant, a very large facility, which has been vacant four years. It will be the new home for Xtreme Power, an energy storage company with the ambition to create 2 gigawatts of wind and solar storage annually and Clairvoyant, which is a solar panel manufacture. This is a classic example of existing automobile being reutilized in the green energy space.
Sarah Lozanova is passionate about the new green economy and is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Energy International Quarterly, ThinkGreen.com, Triple Pundit, Green Business Quarterly, Renewable Energy World, and Green Business Quarterly. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and is a co-founder of Trees Across the Miles, an urban reforestation initiative.