Stepping up efforts to grow green collar jobs

Rybak, Coleman launch new initiative to strengthen region’s green economy

As the competition heats up among communities across the country aiming to attract and retain emerging green manufacturers, Minneapolis and St. Paul leaders are putting their resources together in hopes of marketing the Twin Cities as a green-friendly metro area.

Mayors R.T. Rybak and Chris Coleman on June 22 announced the launch of Thinc.GreenMSP, a ramped up version of their earlier partnership, the Mayors’ Green Manufacturing Initiative.

Cathy Polasky, the city of Minneapolis director of economic policy and development, said the cities are making stronger commitments to build their facilities with as many green features as possible so as to increase the demand for green products made locally.

They will also create a steering committee with members from both cities, local businesses and nonprofit leaders. The committee will help develop policy, initiatives and programs to help recruit and retain green businesses.

The hunger to attract green manufacturers is fueled by both environmental concerns and job growth. A Pew Charitable Trusts study, released last summer, showed that between 1998 and 2007 clean energy jobs nationwide grew by 9.1 percent while traditional jobs grew by only 3.7 percent during the same period.

“This is a way to not only to create local, good green jobs, it’s a way to improve our environment,” Polasky said.

Advocates of green manufacturing say cities play a major role in increasing the demand for their new technology because they are major builders and have the ability to lead by example.

For example, Minneapolis recently reconstructed its public works facility at Hiawatha Avenue and 26th Street East. It was built to LEED Gold standards. LEED is a ratings system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council that measures energy efficiency, water efficiency, emissions and other green factors of a building.

One of the new facility’s many green features is a parking lot paved with material made with 95 percent recycled car tires and plastic. The material allows storm water to permeate into the ground and not run into the storm sewers.

The city contracted VAST Enterprises for the project, a Minneapolis company that started in 2006. The company builds parking lots, driveways, walkways and patios using the recycled material, which resembles brick.

VAST CEO Andy Vander Woude said municipal and state contracts can go a long way toward helping green companies grow.

“When we talk to municipalities and we talk to the state, there is one message we try to convey, and that message is: Be a customer,” Vander Woude said. “Governments are the largest builders in the world, and we’re not asking for charity or handouts by any means. We’re saying, ‘if you’re putting in traditional, non-green materials into your construction and there’s a local company that builds greener, better, price competitive alternatives to those materials, make real rules with teeth that says you need to support those small companies.”

Another big step toward an improved Twin Cities green manufacturing economy, Vander Woude and Polasky said, is the passage of an angel investment tax credit in the state Legislature this spring. The state will dole out $11 to $12 million a year in tax credits to investors of emerging high tech and proprietary technology companies.

Vander Woude said Minneapolis and St. Paul have made strides in promoting green manufacturing and that the angel investment tax credit will help that cause, but he noted that Minnesota as a state is still in the middle of the pack when it comes to green manufacturing. The cities, though, are doing their part, he said.