Rust Belt Is Going Green

Eco-friendly industries and renewable energies are replacing steel mills.

November 14, 2008, 1:24 PM

EBENSBURG, Pa., April 13, 2008— -- Troy Galloway, who worked in the steel mills of western Pennsylvania for 15 years, never thought he'd be a "green collar" worker.

"I started there as a young man, and I thought I would retired from there," Galloway said.

But in 1980s, the U.S. steel industry collapsed when steel from overseas became cheaper. In just 10 years, half the country's steel workers lost their jobs and in 2000, Galloway lost his.

He said he was stunned.

"I didn't see it coming," he said.

Three years his later, his wife Tina lost her manufacturing job when her company outscourced to Mexico. With four children to raise, Tina said she was scared.

"There just wasn't enough money coming in to take care of everything," she said.

Galloway spent years struggling to find a steady job. He opened a construction company and tried selling real estate, but the housing market in western Pennsylvania had been "devastated."

Then he found a lifeline. Gamesa, a Spanish wind turbine company, opened two plants in Pennsylvania, bringing more than 1,200 jobs to the state.

Today, Galloway crafts the blades for wind turbines. It's called a "green-collar job," which is really just a blue-collar job that is good for the environment.

"We'd all heard of alternative energies and stuff, but as far as thinking they'd be jobs that would sustain families in our areas ... I wouldn't have thought that it would be," Galloway said.

Jobs that are good for the environment and good for workers have created some unusual partnerships. The United Steelworkers union is now partnering with the Sierra Club to push for eco-friendly economic policies.

Union leaders are betting that green-collar jobs could replace some of the good-paying manufacturing jobs that have vanished from the United States in recent decades.

Green collar jobs offer competitive wages, benefits and -- most importantly -- staying power. The wind turbines created at Gamesa are gigantic -- 400 feet high -- so it would be costly to build them overseas and ship them to the United States.

"It makes sense to have the facilities that are building this equipment close to the wind farm, so since we have big potential to be opening more wind farms, the likelihood of losing these jobs because of outsourcing to somewhere else is very low," Gamesa chief operating officer Emmanuel Garcia de la Penasaid.

Pennsylvania has attracted companies like Gamesa by creating a guaranteed market for renewable energy. State lawmakers passed an alternative energy portfolio standard in 2004 that calls for 18 percent of the state's energy to come from clean and renewable sources by 2021.

"So that opened up interest all over the world really for wind and solar and geo-thermal," said Dennis Yablonsky, Pennsylvania's secretary of commerce and economic pevelopment.

He predicts more green-collar jobs will come to the state.

"It's going to continue to grow," he said. "It will re-employ steel workers and other blue-collar jobs into this new green area and I think the momentum is going to build on it."

The presidential candidates all tout green-collar jobs as part of their plan to combat climate change and bolster the sagging economy.

Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both say they'll invest about $150 billion over the next decade to promote the green energy sector. They claim they can add about 5 million green-collar jobs to the economy.

But some economists say that may be too optimistic.

"If you're looking over the long term, many millions of jobs have been lost in manufacturing," said Harry Holzer of the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. "I'm skeptical that green technology is going to create that many jobs to replace that magnitude of jobs.

"No single strategy can ever solve all our labor market problems or all of our poverty problems. One can see some public spending on green jobs," he said, but added, "We have to view it as one piece of a much larger puzzle."

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