At a time when pink slips are sending workers packing from many Minnesota industries, those who are going green are creating jobs at promising rates, according to a groundbreaking new study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
While overall jobs in Minnesota grew by 1.9 percent between 1998 and 2007, jobs related to the clean energy economy grew by 11.9 percent, Pew reported. (PDF)
To be sure, it is a fledgling sector of the economy, employing just shy of 20,000 Minnesotans in 2007 compared with a total state workforce of more than 3 million.
Still, the growth during tough times is notable.
WindLogics of St. Paul is one company Pew cited in its examples of the players in the emerging clean-energy economy. It provides feasibility and consulting services for wind farm development and operation.
In 2006, the company had 35 employees. Today it has 80, many of them working in high-quality professional jobs such as a meteorologist, computing specialist and software developer, said Laurie Mainquist, WindLogics’ marketing manager.
Another Minnesota example in the Pew report is Lumificient Corp. of Maple Grove, a company created in 2000 using energy-efficient LED technology to illuminate signs for businesses.
Last year, Lumificient posted revenues of $4.6 million, up 125 percent from the year before, said the company’s division president Carey Burkett. This year’s first quarter was “a little off” that pace, he said. Still, it registered 15 percent above the same period in 2008, a performance other industries could only envy in this tough economy.
One reason for the growth is that the company has responded to new demand for energy efficiency by expanding its LED technology into lighting for commercial and residential buildings as well as for displays such as the lighted choices on the coffee machines at your neighborhood gas station, Burkett said.
Lumificient’s 19 employees include engineers and production assembly workers as well as a sales and office staff, he said.
The Pew researchers reported (PDF) that Minnesota ranked 11th in the nation in green jobs in 2007 and 13th in green patents issued between 1998 and 2008. The state also was 19th in green businesses and 23rd in green job growth and venture capital.
California led the nation in most of those categories. The Dakotas ranked near the bottom in raw counts of green businesses and patents, but their green job rates were growing robustly too.
Growth around the country
Nationwide, jobs in the emerging clean energy economy grew nearly 2.5 times faster than overall jobs between 1998 and 2007, the Pew report said. In 2008, investors directed $5.9 billion into American businesses in the clean energy economy, a 48 percent increase over 2007.
That growth came “despite a lack of sustained government support,” Pew said in an apparent reference to the Bush administration’s tepid support for alternative energy projects and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Now, under a new administration, “the clean energy economy is poised for explosive growth,” said Lori Grange, interim deputy director of the Pew Center on the States.
In order to break new ground for the research, Pew had to define the clean energy economy. It looked at jobs, businesses and investments geared toward clean energy production and increased energy efficiency while also conserving natural resources such as water and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, waste and pollution.
One of the key findings was that “the emerging clean energy economy is creating well-paying jobs in every state for people of all skill levels and educational backgrounds.” Their ranks included engineers, plumbers, construction workers, machine setters, teachers and many others with annual incomes ranging from $21,000 to $111,000.
Other Minnesota-related highlights in the report include:
• Minnesota ranks fourth among states in wind energy production, driven in part by a law requiring that electric utilities get 25 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2020.
• The state attracted nearly $50 million in clean technology venture capital between 2006 and 2008.
• Minnesota had 1,206 companies in the green sector in 2007.
“Minnesota has a large and growing piece of America’s clean energy economy,” the report said.
Sharon Schmickle writes about national and foreign affairs and science. She can be reached at sschmickle [at] minnpost [dot] com.