M. Nutt’s got big plans for this town. Keep dreamin’.
Mayor Nutter may be touting Philadelphia as the future “green jobs capital” of the nation, but Pennsylvania is losing these jobs, not gaining them.
Through the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and the Greenworks program, a recycling and energy-conservation campaign, Nutter is attempting to make Philadelphia the meanest, greenest economically-friendly city in the country. How successful he can be will depend on more than one factor; the city faces a few challenges before it can claim any bragging rights.
A Pew Center on the States study found that Pennsylvania is third in the number of green jobs in the country behind California and Texas, and is just ahead of Ohio and New York. Of the top 5, only Pennsylvania and New York are losing green jobs, and only Pennsylvania is losing them faster than it loses jobs overall. According to the study, Pennsylvania lost 3.1 percent of its overall jobs and 6.1 percent of its green jobs between 1998 and 2007.
Despite the job loss, Mayor Nutter’s Director of Sustainability, Katherine Gajewski, says the administration’s efforts—a loan fund to help companies become greener, new legislation, recycling, improved public transportation—have put the city on an eco-friendly path.
“Greenworks is all about positioning— answering the question: ‘What are the things we can do to make Philadelphia a place where green economy companies and their workers want to be?’” Gajewski said. “Mayor Nutter and some of his key allies on this, like Governor Rendell, have been getting the word out, and are starting to see results.”
HelioSphera, a solar-cell manufacturer set to open a Philly plant in two to three years, may be one of the best examples of the success of Nutter’s attempts, although the company’s plant here came with certain costs to the state and city.
HelioSphera is planning a 500,000 square-foot factory in the Navy Yard, employing 400 skilled workers when it is completed. The plant was also enticed by almost $50 million in incentives offered by the state. “We had great access to a very dense and well-trained work force. Philadelphia is really well-located to distribute” products, said John Grady, senior vice-president of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, which is involved in the project.
“Pennsylvania had an aggressive incentive program, both for the development of facilities like this and for alternative energy production. So locating in a state that would be a place to generate business would be logical,” Grady said. “I don’t see why we can’t be the greenest city. It’s about commitment and resources and staying the course,” he added.
Despite the loss in green jobs, Kil Huh, director of research at the Pew Center on the States, said Pennsylvania still holds a large portion of America’s green economy.
“I think Pennsylvania had taken some steps in the positive direction. It had attracted a large technology sector [and] a large number of patents,” Huh said. “Clean energy generation and energy efficiency were segments that were increasing” during the study period, he added.
Paul Glover, editor of Green Jobs Philly News and an adjunct professor of metropolitan ecology at Temple University, said new technology and initiatives from Nutter will not be enough, that there must be a “shift in authority from City Hall to neighborhoods.”
He adds: “[Greening initiatives] need to be led by neighborhoods embracing new technologies which lower the costs of heating and cleaning the water and air. I think most of the benefits, the heavy lifting, will come from average people with the least formal education, within their neighborhoods, creating low-tech solutions to basic urban challenges.”
The most important challenge, he said, is the lack of insulation in homes and the lots and buildings throughout the city that aren’t being utilized.
“We will need urban land reform which revives the 40,000 vacant lots for urban agriculture,” Glover said, but that most of all, “we need to imagine this city functioning better at a lower cost to us all.”
Any vision of green jobs being an economic savior—either through research and production or through neighborhood measures—is far from the current reality. Only Oregon had even 1 percent of its overall economy in green jobs, the Pew study found. Pennsylvania’s green jobs made up just shy of six-tenths of one percent of its total jobs in 2007, when the study ended.
“We have hardly begun,” Glover said of the progress still to be made.
Gajewski said the attention was still warranted, despite the low percentage of current jobs. “Positioning the city to take advantage of anticipated growth in the green economy means allocating resources up front to take advantage of future gains,” Gajewski wrote in an e-mail. “There was more than $160 billion in worldwide investment in clean energy tech alone in 2009, and that figure is set to grow by 25 percent in 2010. Clearly, the ‘green economy’ is where the world’s investors are placing their bets, which is why Mayor Nutter has committed to making sure Philadelphia stakes its place in this emerging field.”
Pennsylvania ranks eighth in the country for venture capital being put into green energy, with about $233 million invested between 2006 and 2008. It is outpaced especially by California and Massachusetts, which have seen $6 billion and $1 billion, respectively, invested in the same time period. No data on venture capital spending by city is available.
Because green jobs make up such a small percentage of the overall economy, Nutter’s ideal would likely still only employ a fraction of Philadelphians. The faltering green job market in Pennsylvania and its small stake of the overall economy may restrain sustainable jobs to the periphery of any economic revival in Philadelphia.
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