As Michigan struggles to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression, this manufacturing state has been hit hard—if not the hardest—by unemployment. But even here, one sector continued to add jobs: the green jobs sector.
While it doesn’t account for all of Michigan’s job growth, the state’s investments in green jobs, including manufacturing of renewable energy like solar and wind, are starting to pay off. The Clean Energy Advanced Manufacturing Program is one such program that’s helping to promote green industry growth in Michigan.
“It provides money for companies to retool or move into the renewable energy space,” explained Robert Jackson, who manages the Green Practices section of the State Energy Program under the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth (DLEG). “We’ve done it for the last couple of years and have put close to $36 million into it.”
Beneficiaries of the program include solar companies, Luma Resources, Llc, which received $750,000 from the program.
Luma is a sister company of Allen Brothers Inc. It offers building-integrated photovoltaic rooftop kits. Jackson also noted that the company is building, among other things a PV roof for the Rochester Hills fire department. The installation is being funded by a $500,000 Clean Energy Advance Manufacturing grant and a $200,000 ARRA loan.
The program also supported AMPTECH Energy Systems Inc., an offshoot of AMPTECH Inc., that produces combiner boxes for solar installations, reducing the wiring that goes into inverters. That company received a $573,000 grant from the program for retooling, Jackson said.
Funding through that program has created about 2,600 jobs, overall Jackson said. He added that the program will run through Feb. 29, 2012. Although he’s not certain, he said there will hopefully be future funding for such programs, and that funding could come from the federal government, the state or from private investors.
“There is a high level of diversification in Michigan. We do have a lot of training going on, from solar technologies, to installers to hybrid engineers. There’s much going on in terms of our future and in terms of the green space,” said Diane Carpenter, director of regional & sectoral strategies of DLEG. Carpenter leads Michigan’s No Worker Left Behind program.
“At this point what we’re doing is most of our job training initiatives. Year two was geared to green jobs,” she said. “[Trainings are] geared to traditional skills. But there are additional skills required because of the green technology.”
Carpenter explained for instance that while solar installers can draw on traditional construction skills, there are additional skills required when working with the PV cells.
The state issued a report last year showing that together, the green industries employed 109,067 people in 2009. But the state did not break out how many people were in the solar sector. Michigan’s wind sector is also growing as manufacturing plants can be retooled to make wind turbine parts.
Smaller green and renewable energy companies did seem to show some growth in employment at a time when the Michigan economy was losing jobs, said Bruce Weaver, project manager for the Michigan Green Jobs Report 2009.
But it’s too early to tell how many new green jobs were added in 2010.
“We don’t have any data that’s come in subsequent to that report,” said Weaver.
He added that industries with a lot of green jobs in 2009 included construction and agriculture.
“Certainly, the job trends in those industries have at least stabilized. During 2009, they had significant numbers of layoffs,” he said. “All of those heavy levels of layoff activity really stopped. In 2010 jobs have not really rebounded, but we’re not getting those layoffs we experienced in 2009.”
Beyond that, University of Michigan research shows that the state should see a “fairly slow” decline in the state’s unemployment rate in 2011 and some job growth in 2012.
Pictured: Michigan's Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) and her husband overlooking a Luma Resources PV demonstration kit, courtesy of Luma.