America needs new jobs, sustainable ones. As we continue to recover from economic downfall and a dwindling job market, this nation’s workforce waits anxiously for stability to return. Americans are wondering when they can return to a stable job that will create a sustainable future for American ingenuity. Nowhere is the need greater than in Detroit.

Like so many cities across the United States, Detroit has suffered job losses as a result of the global recession, compounded by the effects of economic globalization. Many of the jobs Detroit lost will never return. 

Now is the time for more innovative solutions, not despair. Why? Because, although 2010 census data indeed show Detroit’s population declining drastically in the past decade, young people are beginning to move here again because they see opportunity. They see that the city of Detroit has been working to attract a new, green kind of job, in manufacturing and energy services. These young professionals know, as we do, that rebuilding our city will depend upon the new ideas, creativity and investment they bring to the community.

They see that Detroit has the potential to be a leader in the new green economy. It is an international border city and a domestic transportation hub. It has affordable housing, large fresh water supplies, and a long waterfront, assets that make it attractive to businesses and immigrants.

In fact, our potential has not gone unnoticed and we are beginning to see successes, such as our car battery plant for the Chevy Volt and new solar panel installation companies. Other companies are employing engineers to develop better-performing wind turbines and machinists to build motorized devices that convert sunlight to electricity.

A report published by the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth in 2010 showed southeastern Michigan with over 67,000 “green” jobs in, a majority of which were concentrated in Detroit and count among its most dynamic. The report defined green jobs as “jobs directly or indirectly involved in generating a firm’s green-related products or services.” It defined the state’s green economy as comprised of industries that provide products or services in five broad areas: agriculture and natural resource conservation, clean transportation and fuels, increased energy efficiency, pollution prevention or environmental cleanup, and renewable energy production. 

This modest success could be just the beginning. According to a report by the Pew Charitable Trust, U.S. clean-energy jobs grew by 9.1 percent in the past decade, achieving a double bottom line of economic growth and environmental sustainability.

Unfortunately, many of our national political leaders don’t grasp the magnitude that greening the economy is a key component of both job creation and stable economic growth. They continue to favor old line industry over 21st-century sectors.

Consequently, as we saw in the most recent Pew Charitable Trusts Clean Energy Report, American private equity investment in clean energy already lags behind its Asian and European counterparts in relative terms. China, not the U.S., leads the world in overall clean-energy financing and investment, pouring an estimated $34 billion into the industry. 

The federal government has a responsibility to act sooner rather than later. We need to address the structural challenges facing our economy: dependence on oil from the increasingly volatile Middle East and the flight of high-skilled labor and competition from cities like Detroit to emerging markets. We can start by expanding the Obama administration’s investments and incentives for investments in clean technologies and renewable energy. Detroit can be a leader in green manufacturing, battery technology, and creative uses for under-utilized land.

Until comprehensive reform is jump-started in Washington, states and cities have important roles to play in establishing the green economy. They can enact energy-efficiency standards and spur renewable-energy generation through regional initiatives. Both have the power to encourage local investment with targeted tax incentives and rebates.

The Michigan state government is already retraining workers for jobs in green building and engineering — making the local investment climate more appealing to clean-energy companies. And the city of Detroit has made a start, courting green manufacturers and exploring ways to capitalize on urban agriculture. Detroit is also looking at a number of initiatives including: shared services to reduce consumption, greening the city’s fleet, and supporting local community gardens and green schools, in addition to tree planting efforts.

The politicians in D.C. are slow to catch on, but the American public, local and state policymakers know it’s time for action, because the public knows it is all about jobs. Watching this opportunity pass by is simply not an option — too many paychecks are at stake.

We do not intend to stop until we have created millions of green jobs, exporting the best clean-energy technologies and products around the world. We call upon those in the nation’s capital to help us make it happen.


Dave Bing is the mayor of Detroit. Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network, has worked more than 20 years as an environmental attorney and advocate.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *