Gung Ho for Green Jobs
Tremaine Phillips, 22, of Lansing, is a clean energy buff—he Tweets under the name CleanEnergyGuy.
And even he seemed pretty impressed by what Michigan's Green Jobs gurus pulled off in Lansing this past Monday.
Phillips, who graduated from Michigan State University
in 2008 and now works full time at the Michigan Environmental Counci
l in Lansing, was a member of the planning committee for the Green Today, Jobs Tomorrow
conference, hosted by the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth
(DELEG) in Lansing this week.
In addition to more than 1,400 participants, the event also pulled in some of the nation's highest-profile green economy spokespeople, including Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis
and rising rock star of green jobs advocacy, Van Jones
, who was recently appointed as President Barack Obama's special advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.
"Our first thought was, 'Let's try to bring Van Jones,'" says Phillips. "But I didn't think we could get him—he's a very hot-ticket item."
According to Phillips, Jones is the "one that elevated the idea of Green Jobs to our cultural discourse. He wasn't the only one, but he was really the pioneer in it. Now, he's part of the White House as Obama's green jobs advisory, bridging the gap between communities of color and the environmental movement."
Phillips is optimistic that the conference—and Jones' presence—will help bring Michigan people and policy together to reboot the state's economy and set it on a more sustainable path.
"I'm seeing this conference as the pivot point for Michigan," says Phillips. "So much of the green jobs conversation so far has been the talking points—kind of abstract. Now that people are talking about green jobs and it's part of our cultural and political language—now it's time for implementation. Now it's doing the actual work on the ground and producing the jobs."Down to Business
In the words of DELEG Director Stanley "Skip" Pruss, the conference was intended to help "make Michigan a leader in the emerging green economy."
The new Green Jobs Report
, prepared by the state's Bureau Of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives, and released at the conference, suggests the state already has 109,000 green jobs, and the potential for thousands more, in fields as diverse as wind turbine construction, home weatherization and battery innovation.
Dirk Powell, with Lansing-based T.H. Eifert Mechanical Contractors
, was one of the presenters, and is working to develop tools to help the state's skilled trades go greener.
"I build stuff," says Powell. "My presentation is about how the green revolution, with a focus on sustainable construction, impacts us as a company, and what that mean in terms of the types of talents we'll be looking for when the [economic] rebound occurs."
T.H. Eifert has been in Lansing since 1975, but Powell is developing the company's capacity to do newer, greener projects.
"We're educating ourselves, first and foremost," says Powell. "We have two of us on staff that are involved in the LEED program of the U.S. Green Building Council
and have earned LEED AP credentials. We're an Energy Star
partner with the EPA. We're looking at geothermal and geo-exchange technology, as well as solar."Green Tech
Jeff Metts, of Dowding Industries
in Eaton Rapids, is working to upgrade the Michigan manufacturing sector for the green economy. Metts' company has transitioned staff to work on wind turbines, and has developed designs for computer-aided machining tools that could revolutionize the way wind turbine components are made.
From the internal hub assembly to the massive carbon-fiber blades, "all these things are done on legacy equipment," says Metts. He points specifically to blade construction technology, the best of which today "is as old as making plastic boats. It's all done by hand," he says.
And Metts says what Dowding has in the works, "is game-changing technology" that could reduce the time it takes to build parts and also improve quality and tolerances, reducing error to mere microns—smaller than a human hair.
"I am tired of chasing the rest of the world around in this technology," Metts says. "Michigan has got some of the finest engineers in the world right here. We've got a workforce that understands how to work in manufacturing. You couldn’t design a better place to do this," he says. "There are 8,500 parts in a wind turbine; you can make them all right here."Training and Talent
Michigan faces challenges in transitioning to a new economy. Attracting new talent and retraining the workforce rank among the largest. For Phillips, fresh out of MSU, the decision to stay and work in Lansing was about opportunity as well as clean energy.
"The thing about staying here and not going to D.C. or Chicago is that you can really grasp the levers of change," says Phillips, who has worked on several local issues as well as state policy. "I've only been here 12 months, and I'm amazed at how empowered I feel at the opportunities I have to make an impact on this community. I don't think you can do that in other places."
Along with all the high-tech energy solutions, Phillips is passionate about the social justice aspects of the green economy transition.
"Hopefully, [Van Jones'] presence will bring some of the people of color here in the Lansing area into this conversation and people will not forget about people of color in the environmental movement," says Phillips.
"It's not just about jobs. You have to work with the quality of life, the home life. You don't want to just give a person a job; you want to give them the education and training and social skills to keep a job. Otherwise, you can create all the jobs you want, but you're not getting to the root of the problem."
Of all the components of a transition to a green jobs future—manufacturing updates, job training, technological innovation—"the clean energy economy is the one that excites me the most," Phillips says. "There's great potential for Michigan, and great potential for Lansing. We could be the center for things like battery development. With the university, there could be a lot of spin off industries."
"Lansing can be one of the great cities of Michigan as we transition forward." You can follow Phillips on Twitter @CleanEnergyGuy, and see Twitter updates on the conference @MiGreenJobTo receive Capital Gains free every week, click here.
Brad Garmon is Editor-in-Chief of Capital Gains
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
Green Today, Jobs Tomorrow Conference
T.H. Eifert's Dirk Powell
Wind Turbine hub production at Dowding Industries
Exhibitors at the Green Today, Jobs Tomorrow Conference
All Photographs © Dave Trumpie