When 1,800 workers lost their jobs after
a Maytag appliance factory and headquarters
closed last year in Newton, Iowa, a wind
turbine blade company saw opportunity -
an available, skilled workforce in the middle
of one of America's hardiest wind energy
TPI Composites Inc. is building a plant
there as the energy industry aims for a
cleaner, more sustainable future. With proper
incentives, thousands of "green-collar jobs"
could be created, from ethanol production
to wind turbines and solar panels, and all
the maintenance and construction to support
them, industry officials said.
TPI used to build boats, but switched to
turbines in 2001 for the "major growth opportunity,"
said Steve Lockard, CEO of the Phoenix,
Ariz.-based company. The idea, he said,
is to "transform the workforce away from
the Maytag-type jobs of the past into jobs
that can withstand the test of time going
However, advocates and executives say training
is key to making sure the industry has enough
skilled workers to make it into a real economic
engine, and are pushing for more lucrative
tax breaks, much like oil companies already
receive, to make it profitable.
With the economy sputtering, even presidential
candidates are getting on board. Democrats
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama say they
would funnel federal money into job-training
programs for workers to become skilled in
green industries. The Republican candidates,
too, have plans they say will stimulate
the clean energy sector.
That doesn't matter to people such as Robert
Hughes, who worked at Maytag for 21 years.
He's been out of work since October. At
55, he was making $22 an hour on the assembly
TPI promised to create 500 jobs within
three years at a base pay of $12.25 an hour,
not bad for new workers, but quite a cut
for Mr. Hughes.
"I'm encouraging my grandkids to go to
college and further their education and
get into something other than manufacturing,
because it doesn't really hold a promising
future," he said.
Overall, however, the unions see "an opportunity
to restore some of the 3 million jobs in
manufacturing we've lost in the last seven
years," said Bob Baugh, executive director
of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council.
But while wind and solar have been seeing
steady increases in production and investment,
federal tax breaks set to expire at the
end of the year and an anticipated shortage
of skilled workers could stall growth, experts
"Already companies that have invested
millions of dollars in this industry are
getting nervous," said Randall Swisher,
executive director of the American Wind
An energy bill President Bush signed last
year left out tax breaks for clean energy
industries. The bill does authorize $125
million for green-collar job training programs,
but the industry says that isn't enough.
The federal government must not only extend
the tax credits, but provide more money
for training workers, said George Sterzinger,
executive director of the Washington-based
Renewable Energy Policy Project.
If not, manufacturing will go overseas
and the jobs will be lost, he said.
"You look at a wind turbine. It's got
a whole bunch of parts. Somebody makes the
blades, somebody makes the tower, somebody
makes the gear boxes, the electronic controls,"
Mr. Sterzinger said. "Those parts can come
from China, India - or from Buffalo."
Mr. Swisher estimates that by 2030, nearly
a half-million jobs could be created in
the wind industry, in manufacturing, construction
Originally published by Brian Skoloff Associated
(c) 2008 Augusta Chronicle, The. Provided
by ProQuest Information and Learning. All