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Leaders plan to cash in on 'green-collar' jobs

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

County, state and national officials gathered at the Clayton County Community Services (CCCS) office in Forest Park recently to discuss ways the Southern Crescent can prepare its workforce for a wave of jobs utilizing clean technology.

Often referred to as "green-collar jobs," they are defined as well-paid, career-track jobs that contribute directly to preserving or enhancing the environment. On Tuesday, representatives from the office of U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga), the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority (GEFA), and the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority (GRPA) met to discuss ways in which the Southern Crescent can better position itself to receive government funding for green-collar initiatives, once funds become available.

"We're on the precipice of a great opportunity to move people from poverty to living-wage jobs," said Joe White, project manager of Green World Promotions, a local organization dedicated to green initiatives. "Millions of dollars are coming through Congress for green-jobs training. We want to make sure our state department of labor gets a significant portion of those funds, so that money can make it to our community."

The Green Jobs Act of 2007 (H.R. 2847), introduced by U.S. Reps. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) and John Tierney (D-Mass.) was created to provide funding to help train American workers for jobs in green industries, such as renewable electric power, energy-efficient vehicles, and biofuels development. The act was passed as a part of the 2007 House Energy Bill, however, the act will only be implemented if Congress votes to fund it in the Appropriations Bill for 2009.

"This is a work in progress," said Rep. Scott. "We hope to appropriate about $23 million." In June, the House secured $22.5 million for the Green Jobs Act in the 2009 House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill.

Scott said the appropriations may be approved in "September or October" during the next legislative session. He added, however, "It's good to be prepared for the opportunity before the opportunity gets here.

"The awards are going to be there for the people who are best prepared for this," added Scott. "I think it's very crucial, because it's the way of the future. All of these buildings [in the planed redevelopment of] Fort Gillem must be built on a green standard.

"A lot of the green jobs will come from constructing green, energy-efficient buildings," Scott continued. "We are going to be ready as soon as this bill is passed to put Clayton County in the forefront."

Carl Rhodenizer, chairman of the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority, is excited about the possibility of the bill. He believes the bill will complement local efforts to create a commuter rail system.

"The things that will develop around this system will support those kinds of jobs," said Rhodenizer. "That's why I am excited about this. We will help move more people out of unemployment."

Charles Grant, executive director of CCCS, said creating local, green jobs will require more community support and research. If done correctly, however, he believes it "would be an opportunity to really get our youth involved, get them off the street, and provide an economic engine" for the Southern Crescent.

"I feel like if we approach this correctly, and get the support from the cities, we can get this done," said Grant.

White said he is working to establish a local chapter of the Apollo Alliance, a national organization dedicated to promoting green jobs. He believes establishing the group will give the county "direct access" to potential funds from the Green Jobs Act, which will be competitive.

"The pressure of poverty can drive people to do things that they normally wouldn't do," said White. "[Green jobs] rebuild the middle class, and they offer a positive way out of crime."