Last month, I stood on the factory floor of the Willard and Kelsey Solar manufacturing plant just outside Toledo. The plant pulsed with action as dozens of workers operated machines using cutting-edge technology to churn out thin, film solar panels. Just a few short years ago, this building stood empty when its former tenant −a television components manufacturer− shuttered its operations. The solar jobs didn’t exist then. The new factory and the new jobs are a testament to Ohio’s growing clean energy economy.
Less than ten miles away at First Solar Inc., the world’s largest solar manufacturing company employs more than 1,100 people at its research and development facility in Perrysburg Township. These two northwest Ohio companies, along with hundreds of businesses across Ohio −both big and small− are transforming our state’s economy, investing millions of dollars into our communities and creating tens of thousands of green jobs.
As Ohio works to transcend its Rust Belt image and rebound from the recession, clean energy has emerged as one of the few economic bright spots. Some of the same hands that made Ohio the backbone of the automotive industry are now making solar panels, installing wind turbines, and insulating attics.
The driving force behind this progress, and the jobs that come with it, is the premise that environmental protection and economic development are not mutually exclusive. While solar and wind energy occupations are the most easily identified green jobs, the reality is that industries as diverse as beer brewers, dairy creameries, and construction companies are increasingly shifting away from outmoded business models that prioritize profits at the sake of the environment. Just as importantly, these companies are finding a market for their products.
While much progress has been made, the real promise of the clean energy economy has yet to be fully realized. To truly reap its economic and environmental benefits, we must work to make better connections between the employers creating jobs, the educators developing training programs, and lawmakers that craft public policy. That’s why the Ohio Environmental Council developed our Green Jobs and Innovation Program
By fostering smart public policies that incentivize private sector innovation and drive investment in clean energy, we’re developing essential tools for renewing our economy and energizing job creation.
Partnering with the Ohio Board of Regents, we’ve created the Ohio Green Pathways Advisory Panel. Drawing on experts from across the state, this effort is linking our universities and community colleges to clean energy employers, eliminating gaps in our training programs, and identifying resources that will accelerate the shift to a clean energy economy.
We’ve also begun working with forward thinking businesses, cities, and organizations to devise fresh solutions to age-old problems. The emerging green economy is fueling an influx of innovation, and it’s going to need installers, designers, inventors, and financers. Ranging from GEDs to LEED APs, MBAs and Ph.D.s, no segment of our economy will be untouched because everyone has a role to play.
At the Ohio Environmental Council, we seek to play the facilitator, expediting the transition and the economic prosperity that will follow.
To learn more about the Ohio Green Pathways project, visit theOEC.org/Pathways.htm.