For those of us interested in green jobs, there’s only one thing better than getting the green job of your dreams, and that’s getting yourself in a position to create thousands – if not millions – of green jobs for everybody else. That’s where GE chief Jeffrey Immelt finds himself today, having been tapped to lead President Obama’s new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Just one little problem…where will all the green jobs go, here or overseas?
GE and Jobs Overseas
The initial reaction to President Obama’s announcement has been mixed, mainly due to GE’s past record of outsourcing jobs. However, if you go back to more recent history, in 2009 you’ll find Immelt admitting that too much outsourcing was a mistake that hurt the U.S. economy, and calling for a domestic manufacturing revival to get us out of the doldrums. That puts him squarely in line with Obama’s call for an economy “fueled by what we invent and what we build.”
Obama and Green Jobs
When Obama talks about inventing and building, that’s where the green jobs come in – for U.S. workers. His Administration has dedicated hundreds of millions in Recovery Act spending to green jobs in the U.S., along with initiatives from federal agencies. Just a few examples: a nationwide program to install biogas facilities at livestock farms, a program to reclaim millions of acres of brownfields for clean energy, a web of next-generation battery plants in the Rust Belt to serve the emerging electric vehicle market, and the funding of ARPA-E to stimulate transformational energy innovations that lead to more green jobs.
GE and Green Jobs
All of this federal activity dovetails with new developments coming out of GE since 2009. In the summer of 2009, GE announced plans to develop an all electric net-zero home with solar and wind power. Last summer the company helped put up $200 million in prize money to solicit entries in its “Ecomagination Challenge” to help get new smart grid technology moving in the U.S. GE has also teamed up with a U.S. wind power company to get smart grid-ready micro wind turbines into more homes and businesses.
Green Jobs: One Little Problem…
Now, back to that one little problem. To get the domestic green jobs ball moving over the past couple of years, President Obama had enormous help from a relatively cooperative Congress. Given the reluctance of many new members of Congress to move forward on green jobs, that kind of assist can’t be taken for granted any more. In that case, GE and other U.S./global companies will just start taking their money and their green jobs overseas again.
…Or Maybe Not Such a Problem After All
In that context, the choice of Jeffrey Immelt to head the economic advisory board has all the markings of a deeper strategy looking forward to the 2012 election year, and that is to rally more clean tech companies to help fund the campaigns of legislators and candidates who support the Obama administration’s green jobs policies. GE represents the kind of A-list powerhouse needed to counterbalance the millions put up by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the oil industry’s Koch brothers, among others, to elect legislators who are opposed to domestic green jobs creation. So fasten your seatbelts, the next couple of years are going to be… well, interesting.
Image: GE stove by Mykel roventine on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.