Opportunities await, but more action is needed on jobs front

By January 12, 2010Uncategorized

Editorial from From The Asheville Citizen-Times January 12th, 2010, Featuring Conservation Pros’ founder, Carl Donovan

Last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics put out employment numbers for December, and they were encouraging only in that they weren’t as disastrous as previous numbers. Nationwide unemployment remained unchanged at 10 percent, but the economy shed another 85,000 jobs.

Locally, unemployment in the Asheville Metropolitan Statistical Area (which includes Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison counties) wasn’t as bad, but still discouraging at 8.6 percent in November.

It’s painfully obvious our society can’t function without jobs, but the question is what should be done? Today we’ll look at two Marcus Renner, of Conservation Prosinitiatives: The stimulus push and the effort to grow “green” jobs in Asheville. The stimulus push seems like a good idea.The nation’s infrastructure has been neglected for years, and work is needed on water, highway, rail projects, etc. Addressing that need while spurring employment is a fit that makes sense. However, an Associated Press analysis released this week showed transportation stimulus spending was, at least to date, barely affecting local unemployment rates. To quote AP, the “analysis found there was nearly no connection between stimulus money and the number of construction workers hired or fired since Congress passed the recovery program. The effect was so small, one economist compared it to trying to move the Empire State Building by pushing against it.”

Should the stimulus idea be abandoned? Not necessarily. Should it be targeted better? Absolutely. In August this newspaper reported WNC was getting short shrift when it comes to stimulus dollars For example, McDowell County, with a 16.1 percent unemployment rate, received zero stimulus dollars for highway projects and ranked 92nd out of the state’s 100 counties in overall funding per resident. Leaders from U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, to Gov. Beverly Perdue to newly-minted state Senate Majority Leader Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, have to make sure numbers like that are turned around.

Green jobs is another push that makes sense, especially here in Asheville. That’s not simply because Asheville is more environmentally aware than other communities, but because of the environment-related ventures already here: The Climatic Data Center, NOAA, RENCI, solar power ventures, the N.C. Arboretum and much more. Those entities do offer jobs, but the hope here is that some promising shoots in related fields, from alternative energy to energy conservation, will yield fruit on the employment front.

So far, the results have been elusive. Carl Donovan of Conservation Pros of Asheville, which specializes in energy efficiency and weatherizing homes, said, “There is a lot of promise, but the green jobs seem to be slow to take root. The business is certainly picking up, but I don’t see the jobs yet.”

Matt Raker of AdvantageGreen, an offshoot of the venerable AdvantageWest economic development agency, said estimates on the number of new green jobs ahead for North Carolina range from 6,500 to more than 60,000.

Raker said, “I don’t know that we can say that green is the magic solution to bring back … jobs, but we do have a lot of opportunity to bring solar panel manufacturing and other components here.”

He’s right. There isn’t a magic solution, a single silver bullet, out there to solve the jobs crisis. We need not a single bullet, but a bandolier full of them. The green jobs field is a developing industry, and it would be wise to be in on the ground floor. Initiatives like the stimulus package, done right, can provide other jobs and tie in with the green push.

WNC has to get its fair share of stimulus funds, federal funds and attention from Raleigh. We need to protect existing jobs and develop new opportunities such as those on the green front.

Leaders in government and the business community have to realize we’re on the clock and be nimble in embracing new strategies to create new jobs.

Above all, we need action. Now.