Green jobs in Michigan grow again after dip

LANSING — After losing 3 percent of its “green” jobs a year earlier, Michigan became one of the fastest-growing states for environmental employment last year.

According to Environmental Entrepreneurs, a national organization of business leaders, Michigan was among the top 10 states for environmental job growth in 2012, adding 19 projects and about 3,700 jobs. That brings the total to more than 86,000.

The report was a sign of good things to come, not just in Michigan but nationwide, said Hugh McDiarmid Jr., communications director of the Michigan Environment Council, a coalition of conservationist groups. The Environmental Entrepreneurs report estimated an increase of 110,000 green jobs throughout the U.S.

“Michigan has the manufacturing infrastructure, skilled workers and quality of life that will enable us to attract our share of this growing field,” McDiarmid said. “We need to pursue policies that encourage growth in renewable energy, efficiency, pollution abatement and wise resource management — businesses that are the backbone of this sector.”

The hiring announcements in 2012 ranged from modest, such as 10 positions outfitting solar panels on a casino in Emmett Township, to substantial, including 300 jobs in Van Buren Township manufacturing batteries for electric cars.

In addition, Energetx Composites LLC announced it needed as many as 100 workers to manufacture wind turbines in Holland, and Consumers Energy advertised more than 150 jobs for constructing and operating a wind farm in Mason County.

The other top 10 states in 2012 were California, North Carolina, Florida, Illinois, Connecticut, Arizona, New York, Texas and Oregon.

The largest segments of the approximately 110,000 new green jobs nationally were public transportation with 7,625, and power generation with 3,615, according to Energy Entrepreneurs.

Between 2010 and 2011, green jobs in Michigan dropped from 85,228 to 82,644, with the vast majority of losses in the private sector, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The decrease likely came in budding industries such as manufacturing batteries for electric cars or constructing solar panel systems and wind turbines, said John Sarver, executive director of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association in East Lansing.

As new companies compete for a foothold in these new industries, some will succeed and others will inevitably fail, Sarver said.

“It’s such a competitive market and it’s a developing market, so you have quite a few companies that want to get into it,” he said. “Some are going to do better than others — that’s just the way the market works.”

Michigan’s decline in green jobs from 2010 to 2011 bucked the national trend. Most of its neighbors fared better. Indiana and Illinois each added more than 2,000 jobs, Wisconsin added more than 6,000, and Ohio added more than 8,000. Minnesota, however, lost about 3,400 green jobs.

The U.S. saw an increase of 157,746 such jobs, about a 4.9 percent jump to more than 3.4 million.

With more than 20,000 jobs, manufacturing is the largest green sector of Michigan’s economy, followed by construction with more than 12,000, and administrative and waste services with almost 10,000.

Sarver said he’s confident about Michigan’s ability to increase green jobs through both manufacturing and energy production — particularly wind energy, which he said public utilities are using more.

“If you look long term, there’s a lot of reason to be optimistic about green jobs in Michigan,” Sarver said.

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