Nearly 12,000 jobs in Pittsburgh region expected by 2015
Fredric C. Underwood II has big dreams for his solar power panel company and big plans to take advantage of anticipated demand for green products and services during the next several years.
Underwood, a resident of Pittsburgh's North Side and a full-time city firefighter, converted a residential construction firm he operated for 12 years into a solar power panel sales and installation company called Underwood Solar Future LLC. He has hired 17 installers and 18 salespeople.
"We're hiring now," he said, in preparation for installing solar power panels on 50 commercial buildings in the Williamsport area later this month.
Businesses like Underwood's that are involved in environmentally friendly, or "green jobs," could add 11,640 jobs in the Pittsburgh region by 2015, according to a report called the Southwestern Pennsylvania Green Jobs Analysis and Action Plan. Adding those estimates to a local base of 17,858 green jobs in 2007 would bring total jobs here to 29,496 jobs in 2015, the report said.
It was commissioned by two local groups, the Green Building Alliance and Growing Technology Through Energy and Community Health.
"I hope to have 1,000 of those jobs myself. ... My goal is to produce my own solar panels," said Underwood, who is started the business out of his home.
Growth in green jobs is expected because of a base of about green-related companies in the region and $787 billion in federal stimulus money that will provide $80 billion in clean energy investments, including $6.3 billion for state and local initiatives, the report said.
Some studies that tout the growth of green jobs have been criticized for generous projections. But Richard Overmoyer, leader of a team at GSP Consulting, South Side, which produced the Action Plan report, said this study was conservative in its estimates. The projections were based on market factors and a realistic look at what can be considered green jobs, he said.
In general, however, reports of green jobs growth "are grossly overstated because they don't take into account the jobs lost elsewhere," said David Kreutzer, a senior policy analyst in energy economics and climate change for The Heritage Foundation, a think tank in Washington.
Government subsidies to grow green jobs require raising taxes in other parts of the economy and "taxes can lead to lost jobs elsewhere," said William T. Bogart, an economist at York College and a co-author of a public policy paper "Seven Myths About Green Jobs."
Businesses seeking federal stimulus money for projects that will add green jobs need the Action Plan to qualify, said Chris Koch, a co-founder of Growth Through Energy and Community Health in Point Breeze.
Stimulus funding is critical, Koch said, to creating markets for green jobs in places where they don't exist, funding new technology and making the public aware and "ready to take advantage of the opportunities."
Bogart said, however, that jobs based on government subsidies, can disappear when the subsidies dry up. Job projections based on new technologies that prove worthy in the laboratory sometimes are not ready for development on a commercial scale, he added.
Job estimates for this region mirror national projections for green job growth of 6 percent annually to 4.2 million jobs in 2039, from 750,000 now, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
The Action Plan report projects job growth here through 2015 will come from mostly from services — 14,967. Other jobs will be in environmental conservation, 3,269; and renewable energy, 1,621. But the building products sector is expected to lose about 8,200 jobs, falling to about 6,250 by 2015, the report said.
Those job loss mirrors the loss of manufacturing jobs in the economy in general, rather than a downturn in green building products in particular, Overmoyer said.
"Some of those green jobs are in companies that were hit by the broader economic downturn," Overmoyer said.
Green job opportunities are increasing because a lot of companies realize the importance of being involved "in this new global economy" that takes into account the environment, said Valerie Hearn, a spokeswoman for the Green Building Alliance, South Side.
Companies are more aware of "producing and marketing products as green," Hearn said.
Green jobs are defined as employment in industry sectors that have significant output of environmentally friendly products and services, such as:
• Manufacturing of products that reduce environmental impact and improve resource usage
• Energy production from natural resources such as solar, water, wind, geothermal and biofuels
• Services that help build and supply the green economy, using green products and technology
• Air, water, emission control monitoring and water treatment, sewage treatment and landscaping
Source: Southwestern Pennsylvania Green Jobs Analysis and Action Plan 2009.