Green jobs economy has hits and misses in Maryland
Uneven growth may improve in future
Vincent A. Glorioso, vice president of FCC Environmental's Hydrocarbon Recovery Services, Inc., walks near the eight 30,000 gallon storage tanks at the company's East Baltimore used oil terminal. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun / September 13, 2011)
FCC Environmental, a Houston-based company, recently announced plans to build a $50 million plant in Fairfield to recycle used motor oil, hiring 30 people to reclaim a waste normally burned in industrial boilers.
SavWatt USA, meanwhile, is having trouble finding enough work to expand its fledgling light-emitting-diode light assembly plant near M&T Bank Stadium. The Baltimore-based firm has 30 workers, but hoped to have 100 to 150 by year's end, according to its CEO.
Such are the vagaries of the "green" economy that government officials and some economists have long touted as the employment wave of the future.
Businesses are trying their hands at producing environmentally friendly products and services, from solar-powered lights and electric vehicle charging stations to waste recycling and pollution cleanup. But the growth in such "clean" jobs has been uneven, and hasn't matched some of the rosier projections to date — even in Maryland, where state and local officials have tried to encourage green industries.
"I don't think it's been as fast as anyone hoped for, but there's been growth," said Brad Heavner, senior policy analyst with Environment America and former state director for the environmental group in Maryland.
"Green-collar" jobs account for just 2 percent of the nation's work force and even before the recent stalling of the economy had been growing more slowly than overall employment, according to a recent report by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
The Baltimore area ranked 22nd among the 100 largest metro areas in the number of "clean" jobs, with nearly 23,000, according to the Brookings report. But those positions represent just 1.7 percent of all the jobs in the region, the report noted, a lower share than in the nation as a whole.
Clean jobs locally grew 2.6 percent annually from 2003 through last year, the report said, but that rate trailed most metro areas.
Statewide, Brookings found the number of clean jobs topped 43,000, which put Maryland 23rd among the states and the District of Columbia. But the state's clean economy also accounted for less than 2 percent of all jobs, and the growth lagged that of most states.
Mark Muro, senior fellow at Brookings and lead author of the report, said the slow growth of green jobs in Maryland is not surprising, given the sluggish national economy. A large share of the jobs classified as "green" by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and others are in the construction industry, which Muro noted has been especially hard hit by tight credit and the real estate slump.
Local economists said they think green jobs will grow in Baltimore and Maryland, in time.
"It's not a significant part [now], but I think it's something that could become a significant portion of the economy," said Raquel Frye, an economist with the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University. With Congress and the Obama administration looking to cut federal funding and government employment — a bulwark of Maryland's economy for years — Frye suggested green jobs could help make up for the losses.
"We have the workforce for it, very skilled, highly trained," she said. The major question, she added, is: "What kind of investments are needed?"
At the national level, President Barack Obama's administration has pushed for development of renewable energy, more efficient cars and other elements of a green economy. But in laying out his latest jobs proposal to Congress last week, Obama didn't use the word "green" and skirted mention of energy, which has become a partisan issue. The president proposed a broad array of general employment tax breaks and public-works programs, including renovating schools and building bridges and other infrastructure
The O'Malley administration has offered incentives and tax credits to businesses creating more jobs in energy efficiency, renewable energy production, waste management and environmental cleanup or restoration. And officials say the state's green economy is larger than the Brookings report indicates.
A recent survey of employers found the state had more than 113,000 green jobs and expected to hire 13,000 more in the near future, according to Andrew Moser, president of the Maryland Workforce Corp., an entity created by the legislature to provide job training.
Moser's nonprofit received a $4 million federal grant to promote green jobs. The state also has used federal economic stimulus grants to fund work in alternative and renewable energy, and in environmental remediation.
The stimulus grants have been criticized for not producing as many jobs as officials had projected. The short-term impact of that funding was oversold, Brookings' Muro said, but he suggested that it has helped spawn new ventures.