Green jobs: Don’t buy the hype?

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“Green jobs” is often a quick answer to the question of Minnesota’s employment future. It’s what everyone wants. State officials are starting to count green job growth and it’s a high priority for Twin Cities mayors.

But if you’ve been giddy about green jobs driving the new economy, a new Minneapolis Fed analysis will sober you up fast.

Yes, leave it to the guys at the Fed to detail why your conventional wisdom about green jobs and the future is wrong.

Below are the highlights from the Fed report.If you’re a visual learner here’s the way the Fed sees it.

That would be a green balloon about to be pierced by a sharp instrument.

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The Fed, for instance, knows there’s love for wind turbines on the windy plains and notes a Minnesota 2020 report claiming that if done right, the wind industry “can create thousands of jobs, [and] revive the economic base of many Minnesota communities hit hard by the recession.”

But, says Fed writer Ron Wirtz, “There’s just one little annoyance: As a job creator, wind power doesn’t pack much punch….”

Xcel Energy has the most wind-generated power of any utility in the country, yet “it’s really hard to quantify” the effect of the green movement specifically on company employment, said Beth Chacone, environmental policy manager for Xcel. “I know [the green economy] gets a lot of press, but we’re not sure there is job creation.”

Even the generally upbeat folks at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development aren’t sanguine about green jobs driving the state’s future.

State labor market analyst Steve Hine tells the Fed:

…green jobs appear to be the latest in a long line of economic silver bullets — new sectors with clear promise that got exaggerated beyond their real potential.

“Ten years ago, high-tech was the ticket to never-ending economic growth,” said Hine. Health care, biotech and telecom have also had a turn. These have been important economic developments, but they also have limits.

The enthusiasm for green “is not a new thing,” he said. “It’s a grasp for the next new thing.”

Ouch.

If you’re still thinking about green as an employment salvation, the report also details the, er, creative art of defining a green job. It’s not pretty.

“Measurement idiosyncrasies,” says Wirtz, “suggest that bold estimates for new green jobs have a methodological thumb on the scale.

“Add it all up, and those hoping for a green makeover might be disappointed if they are expecting a sea change in how the broader economy looks and acts.”

It’s a terrific analysis. Reporters love puncturing conventional wisdom, so I’m compelled to stand back and applaud the Fed’s methods and detail.

It’s an important message policy makers and others need to hear. Money’s getting spent to retrain people hurt in the recession for “green jobs”.

The competition among cities and states to spend money to attract green jobs is picking up speed. The Twin Cities “Thinc.GreenMSP” effort is “an unprecedented economic-development partnership between the two cities to retain, grow and attract green-manufacturing businesses and jobs” in the metro area.

The Minneapolis Fed’s analysis ought to force us all to ask if the Green Jobs promise is worth the hype.

Take a look at the Fed research and listen to Wirtz in the video below. Then post below or drop us a line directly and tell us what you’re seeing when it comes to green jobs in Minnesota.