Michigan's "green" economy is growing fast, data shows, with thousands of clean energy jobs on the horizon as a new manufacturing base is being built on the expertise of its battered auto industry.
The change raises the prospect that Michigan might one day be a global hub for electric vehicles and advanced battery development, along with biofuel technologies, wind power parts and solar panels.
Former Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, whose second term ended in January, said in an interview that Michigan businesses are expected to create more than 89,000 clean energy jobs in the next decade from $14 billion of projects in the pipeline. (Includes correction, 4/07/2011)
The jobs will stem from 17 advanced battery companies and more than 25 solar, wind and biofuels companies that came to Michigan from August 2009 to December 2010, lured by state tax credits and federal stimulus grants, Granholm told SolveClimate News.
"Michigan has gone through the decade from hell," Granholm said.
"The first eight years of the last decade were an example of job loss. But these last two years are an example of positive national and state policy working in tandem. What that can bring … is more investment, more research and development, and, most importantly, jobs."
As governor, Granholm implemented aggressive clean energy policies and tax incentives to attract businesses, foster collaboration with universities and reverse massive job loss in the automotive and manufacturing sectors.
The state's new governor, Rick Snyder, who campaigned as a "good green Republican," is expected to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor.
Bottom Line: 'Policy Matters'
For the first time in a decade, Michigan is projected to gain jobs and break its unprecedented string of rising unemployment, according to April 4 figures from the University of Michigan's economics department.
This week, the department updated its earlier projections of 20,000 new positions for 2011. Economists now anticipate Michigan will add 64,600 jobs in 2011 and 61,500 more in 2012. The increase reflects "in part a bounce in manufacturing following the traumatic situation of the recent past," they wrote.
The state lost more than 900,000 jobs in the last decade due largely to the bankrupt auto industry, fleeting manufacturers and the national economic downturn, the economists said.
Today, however, Michigan ranks No. 1 in the nation for job creation improvement in a recent Gallup survey of state job markets.
"The bottom line is that policy matters," Granholm said. "Without policy, this would not be happening."
The former governor, who last month was appointed senior policy adviser to the non-profit Pew Charitable Trusts, said she hoped that Michigan's story could be that of "the canary in the coal mine" for national lawmakers struggling to pass a federal clean energy standard.
"We are excited about the opportunities that clean energy jobs bring," she said. "But we don't want those jobs to go away because the federal government has failed to press on the accelerator."
Granholm began her clean energy approach with the $2 billion 21st Century Jobs Fund, a ten-year program started in 2005 to encourage venture capital investments and R&D funding for 1,500 startups or existing firms looking to transfer skills from the old economy to the cleantech industry.
Two years later, Granholm signed the state's renewable portfolio standard requiring utilities to get 10 percent of their electricity supply from clean energy generation, renewable energy credits and energy efficiency programs by 2015.
Since then, a vast array of clean energy programs have popped up, including: tax-exempt zones for R&D and manufacturing facilities; business accelerators for cleantech startups; clean energy training grants; and business tax credits for alternative energy companies.
Michigan Having a 'Cluster Effect'
Howard Learner, director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), said that Michigan is beginning to have a "cluster effect" among renewable energy and electric vehicle developers.
"Michigan is becoming a center for clean energy R&D, and that tends to feed itself. More development attracts more equipment manufacturers and so on," he told SolveClimate News.
A central part of Michigan's cleantech focus has been building on what the state already knows best — automobiles.