Knoxville, Tennessee...McAllen, Texas...Little Rock, Arkansas...Albuquerque, New Mexico...Los Angeles, California. Besides L.A., many of these southern U.S. cities wouldn’t normally be considered the center of a green tech revolution. Yet, they are, and are also employing large numbers of Latinos and other workers disproportionately affected by the recession, according to a recent report by National Council of La Raza.
"In the metropolitan areas that we studied there is significant overlap between Latino jobs and green jobs," said the study’s author and NCLR senior policy analyst Catherine Singley Harvey. "Green jobs pay more than traditional Latino occupations. Also, green jobs typically have workers with some college, but not a college degree."
The green collar sector can encompass many jobs, all with the ultimate goal of creating communities that rely less on fossil fuels: actual green energy companies that manufacture products; such green companies’ administrative staff and marketing and sales teams; staff to instill solar panels, upgrade old buildings, water systems and infrastructure; those who work in the field and conduct feasibility studies; and research.
"By making a 40 percent investment in energy efficiency, we could create over half a million jobs," said Shamar Bibbins, senior political associate for the non-profit organization Green for All.
Earlier this month, Bibbins was invited by NCLR to discuss the report’s findings and the green collar sector in general. As it turns out, Knoxville, Tennessee, is the No. 1 city of green collar job growth! Its mayor, Madeline Rogero, is widely recognized for promoting green projects in the city, according to Susanna Sutherland, director of Knoxville’s Policy and Redevelopment Department.
Knoxville’s foray into this space began in 2007 when the then mayor, now Governor Bill Haslam, created a taskforce. That taskforce released 31 action items, many of which turned into projects that created jobs in the city. Among them, has been an upgrade to the convention center as well as solar panel installations and an innovative storm water project.
The biggest obstacle, Sutherland said, has been “to get people enrolled in the community college.” While many green collar jobs do not require a Bachelor’s degree, they do require some college or job training. Also, some immigrant workers need a course to brush up on their English skills.
But the interest is there: Knoxville has held many informational and training sessions that are largely attended by Latino and other workers of color.
“We need to invest in workplace development programs, not cut them,” NCLR’s Singley said.