The President’s response to the call for jobs now is necessarily focused on short-term triggers. But, we must simultaneously seed the jobs for the next two to five years, or we will just keep putting ourselves back into the same hole. These so-called “medium term jobs” must come from growth sectors in the global economy where the U.S. has skills and ideas to offer. To me, the most promising of those sectors are health care and clean energy & resource management.
It is in the latter area that the U.S. needs to, as David Brooks recently described, “set the table” with policies that create customers for the many small to large businesses that are striving to participate in this new sector. In our survey of clean energy businesses, 73% are small businesses with less than 50 employees. Of these, according to market research by Frost & Sullivan, one third believed that the failure to pass clean energy legislation last year had an effect on their business and 7 out of 10 thought their sales would increase if the U.S. passed new policies to reduce greenhouse gases.
When business of all sizes know that they are going to have customers – not just today from a short term stimulus or other plan, but customers derived from a long term commitment by our country to move to clean energy and less air pollution – they can hire permanent employees. In California, where the state has been slowly but steadily setting the table with rules for cleaner vehicles, a renewable portfolio standard, the Global Warming Solutions Act and energy efficient building codes, the clean energy sector is a growing source of jobs. For example, according to Next 10 report from May 2011, jobs in manufacturing of clean energy and resource management activities grew 19% between 1995 and 2008 while total manufacturing employment in the state dropped 9%.
Without creating customers, “clean energy jobs” workforce training programs become a bridge to nowhere, the promise of clean energy jobs falters and businesses remain faced with lots of uncertainty and a natural reluctance to permanently hire new people. The National Infrastructure Bank and rebuilding schools will hopefully create customers for some of these firms. But what businesses really need to hire people is the prospect of customers over the medium-term. We need Presidential leadership on federal clean energy policies to help deliver a steady-stream of customers and seed the jobs of tomorrow.