It’s no secret the U.S. is struggling with high unemployment and dismal job growth. But at least one industry seems to be bucking the trend. “Sizing the clean economy: A national and regional green jobs assessment,” is an unbiased report published by Brookings. It demonstrates that, despite what some might think, solutions to environmental problems are not a drag on federal and state budgets, and can instead create revenue and new jobs.
The Brookings report shows that each of the top 100 American metropolitan areas by population has been able to add jobs as a result of green initiatives. Almost all of these jobs pay better than the median wage for that urban area.
The report notes: “The clean economy is manufacturing and export intensive. Roughly 26 percent of all clean economy jobs lie in manufacturing establishments, compared to just 9 percent in the broader economy.” According to the report, “on a per job basis, establishments in the clean economy export roughly twice the value of a typical U.S. job ($20,000 versus $10,000).“
In a period in which U.S. manufacturing has been in a multi-decade decline, the data give hope that there could be at least a modest resurrection in the sector.
The report also shows that green businesses added 565,337 net new jobs in America between 2003 and 2010. While that seems modest, the context is important. The sector added jobs in a period when a struggling U.S. economy lost thousands of jobs and when the government’s austerity measures, which have already caused thousands of layoffs, will likely cause thousands more.
Also encouraging is where many of the new jobs have been added. This new employment is often in some of America’s older cities that have been ravaged by changes in the U.S. job base in the last 30 or 40 years. Green jobs have begun to fill in for some positions that have been lost and will never come back. Among the top 10 markets with most jobs from green initiatives are Albany, N.Y.; Toledo, Ohio; Little Rock, Ark.; and Knoxville, Tenn. Unemployment was 13.4 percent in Toledo at the depth of the recession because it depended on car industry jobs. That number is down to 9.3 percent, which is close to the national average and better than many other cities that were part of the once-powerful auto manufacturing industry.
One positive is almost certain to come from the publication of “Sizing the clean economy.” Public policy about employment creation is often based on projections of where jobs may be added in the future and in what industries. Brookings has taken some guesswork out of that. Public funds have found an actual return in “green,” according to the data it presents.
24/7 Wall St. looked at the 10 cities that had the most rapid annual growth in green jobs from 2003 to 2010. We used BLS data to show the month when the city had its worst unemployment during the recession and what the number was in May of this year. We also compared the city’s unemployment rate to that of the state where it is located to determine whether the city was doing better or worse.
In some of the cities on the 24/7 Wall St. list of “American cities with the fastest green jobs growth,” the number of people in the green jobs workforce has almost doubled. That figure and the clear contribution of the green movement to local economies speak for themselves.
10. Albuquerque, N.M.
> Green job growth rate: 7.8 percent per year
> No. of green jobs in 2010: 9,912
> Current unemployment: 6.8 percent
> Peak unemployment: 9.4 percent (July 2010)
> State unemployment: 6.9 percent (14th lowest)
Albuquerque has emerged as a major center for companies that use green technologies as well as large manufacturers of green technologies, such as Advent Solar and Schott AG. Last year, “The EPA awarded $49,000 to the Earth Works Institute and the Gila Resources Information Project towards the employment of New Mexico high school students in green jobs,” reports New Mexico news station KRQE. Unemployment is now two and a half percentage points lower than it was at the city’s peak, only one year ago.
9. Toledo, Ohio
> Green job growth rate: 8.1 percent per year
> No. of green jobs in 2010: 11,831
> Current unemployment: 9.3 percent
> Peak unemployment: 13.4 percent (Jan 2010)
> State unemployment: 8.6 percent (22nd highest)
Toledo, Ohio’s fourth largest city in terms of population, was one of the great American cities to be decimated by the decline of industrial America. Once home to several major automotive companies and dozens of plants, it is now an archetypal city in America’s rust belt. Its population has decreased by at least 5 percent every decade since the 1970s, including an 8.4 percent drop between 2000 and 2010. The city is looking to reverse its fortunes by attempting to be on the cutting edge of the green jobs movement. In 2008, Toledo Councilman Joe McNamara and Lucas County announced a Green Partnership aimed at creating environmentally friendly jobs. “We are serious about growing our green businesses,” Mr. McNamara said. “We want to be a livable city on the cutting edge of the green economy.” In the past few years, several green businesses have expanded to the city, including solar cell company Xunlight.
8. Tulsa, Okla.
> Green job growth rate: 8.3 percent per year
> No. of green jobs in 2010: 7,130
> Current unemployment: 6 percent
> Peak unemployment: 8.9 percent (Jan/Feb 2010)
> State unemployment: 5.3 percent (5th lowest)
Tulsa’s economy was once largely dependent on the oil industry. In recent years there has been a focused effort to encourage environmentally friendly companies to operate in the city. There has been some success, and green jobs have grown at a rate of 8.3 percent per year since 2003, with more than 3,000 jobs created. The city has recently begun a redevelopment project in which a Tulsa industrial area is being converted into a green-focused industrial campus meant to attract green technology companies. The project, called GreenPark Tulsa, is expected to attract 2,000 green jobs to the area.
7. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas
> Green job growth rate: 8.5 percent per year
> No. of green jobs in 2010: 2,203
> Current unemployment: 11.9 percent
> Peak unemployment: 12.8 percent (Jan 2011)
> State unemployment: 8 percent (24th lowest)
Located at the southern tip of Texas, the metropolitan area is one of many southern and southwestern cities that have had a major population growth in the past few decades, more than doubling in size since 1980. However, McAllen’s economy has suffered heavily, and unlike many of the cities with major growth in the green energy sector, McAllen has continued to struggle with unemployment. The city currently has a jobless rate nearly 50 percent higher than the Texas average. The city’s green-collar job growth rate is quite high, having nearly doubled between 2003 and 2010. However, the total number of jobs today is just 2,200, less than most major cities that have had relatively low growth. McAllen still has a long way to go if it wants to revitalize its workforce with environmentally friendly jobs.
6. Ogden-Clearﬁeld, Utah
> Green job growth rate: 8.6 percent per year
> No. of green jobs in 2010: 2,111
> Current unemployment: 7.2 percent
> Peak unemployment: 8.5 percent (Jan/Feb 2010)
> State unemployment: 7.3 percent (tied for 15th lowest)
Like McAllen, Ogden will still need to make a great deal of progress in order to be considered a hub for green technology business. Only a relatively small part of Ogden’s economy is green jobs, with just a few thousand of them representing just 1 percent of the region’s total employment. Unlike McAllen, however, the city has a relatively low unemployment rate, slightly better than the state’s average, and so the sense of urgency to completely reinvent its economy may not be there.
5. Albany-Schenectady-Troy, N.Y.
> Green job growth rate: 8.8 percent per year
> No. of green jobs in 2010: 28,087
> Current unemployment: 6.8 percent
> Peak unemployment: 8.3 percent (Jan 2010)
> State unemployment: 7.9 percent (23rd lowest)
In 2010, 6.3 percent of all jobs in Albany were green, or “clean economy” jobs — the largest share of any large metropolitan area in the U.S. As the home of GE, the city has “a massive presence in wind-related activities, battery technologies, professional energy services, fuel cell development and production, and regulation and compliance — its largest segment. It is also overrepresented in hydro power, remediation, conservation and environmental research among others,” according to Brookings. The Brookings report goes on to say that in addition to GE the growth of green jobs in the region is largely driven by the state’s government.
4. Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, Ark.
> Green job growth rate: 10.5 percent per year
> No. of green jobs in 2010: 11,934
> Current unemployment: 7 percent
> Peak unemployment: 7.8 percent (Feb 2010)
> State unemployment: 7.8 percent (22nd lowest)
Little Rock is a major center of green technology manufacturers. The metropolitan area produces a number of green consumer products and electric vehicles. Little Rock also features a budding wind power industry, with companies such as LM Wind Power and Polymarin Composites having major presences in the area. Mayor Mark Stodola has announced his desire for Little Rock to be the “greenest city in the South.” Earlier this year, Stodola told InArkansas, an Arkansas-based news site, that “sustainability is a part of progress, and if Little Rock wants to be a progressive city, we must move forward on sustainability issues.”
3. Des Moines-West Des Moines, Iowa
> Green job growth rate: 11.4 percent per year
> No. of green jobs in 2010: 5,256
> Current unemployment: 5.8 percent
> Peak unemployment: 6.6 percent (Feb/March 2011)
> State unemployment: 6 percent (tied for 7th lowest)
Like the rest of the state, Iowa’s capital and most populous city has been left relatively untouched by the recession. The city’s employment has been very stable, and it’s current jobless rate of 5.8 percent is just below the state’s rate of 6 percent. Because it has remained healthy, the Des Moines government has been able to experiment with green programs, including a new waste reclamation system. Des Moines mayor T.M. Franklin Cownie has aggressively pushed the green collar movement in the state, setting up the Des Moines Energy and Environmental Task Force and starting a program creating jobs to re-plant trees. More than 2,500 green jobs have been created in the city in the past seven years.
2. Raleigh-Cary, N.C.
> Green job growth rate: 13.7 percent
> No. of green jobs in 2010: 16,677
> Current unemployment: 7.9 percent
> Peak unemployment: 9.8 percent (Jan/Feb 2010)
> State unemployment: 9.7 percent (tied for 11th highest)
Green job growth in Raleigh has brought the city’s unemployment rate down from state-level at peak to under 8 percent today. While 3.3 percent of all jobs in the metropolitan area are clean-economy jobs, the majority of these exist in the public sector, as is the case with many capital cities. Most of Raleigh’s green jobs are in “training, smart grid, pollution reduction, regulation and architecture and construction services,” reports Brookings.
1. Knoxville, Tenn.
> Green job growth rate: 14.6 percent
> No. of green jobs in 2010: 16,135
> Current unemployment: 7.7 percent
> Peak unemployment: 9.5 percent (June 2009)
> State unemployment: 9.7 percent (tied for 11th highest)
No city has had a bigger explosion of green jobs in the past seven years than Knoxville. The city’s 6,000 new eco-friendly jobs have nearly tripled since 2003. To date, nearly one in every 20 jobs is considered green. Only Albany has a larger percentage of its workforce in environmentally friendly occupations. The biggest source of these jobs is Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a massive research facility that focuses on developing alternative energy sources and employs 4,800 people. Many of these new jobs have been in solar energy, and the city has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants in the past five years to jump-start various initiatives. At a recent event celebrating the completion of the largest solar installation in the city, former mayor Bill Haslan stated that “solar is something business owners and individuals in Knoxville see as a viable alternative to coal and fossil-fuel generated electricity.” The technology-heavy city has an unemployment rate of 7.7 percent, more than two percentage points under the state average and nearly 2 percentage points less than its peak unemployment just two years ago. Partially to thank for this are thousands of green jobs that have been created.