Green Jobs

The Potential for Green Jobs in Fremont

I gave a speech on May 1st about NUMMI and the possibility of bringing green jobs to Fremont. The event was called “NUMMI 2010: A Tribute” and was held at the Clean Tech Institute in Fremont. The event brought together NUMMI workers and a number of representatives from the green technology sector. It was noticeable that there were no representatives from the City of Fremont at this event.

Below is the text of the speech that I gave.

I want to thank the organizers of this event at the Clean Tech Institute for having me here. I am very honored to be speaking here today.

NUMMI was an incredible asset to the City of Fremont. I think it is very fitting that we have a tribute to honor the people of NUMMI for all they did for our community. Over 5,000 people worked there. When we consider how many people worked there through the years, and how many jobs were created for suppliers, that number is probably ten times that. The plant manufactured over eight million cars during the time it was here.

We could all go on and on about all of the reasons we’re having a tribute to NUMMI today, but I want to focus on one particular aspect– NUMMI was a great member of our community.

Back In 2008 when I ran for City Council, one of the elements of my platform was the need to bring more manufacturing jobs to Fremont. Some people heard the word ‘manufacturing’ and reacted negatively, saying you can’t have manufacturing here in Fremont and keep it a nice quiet residential area. I would then point out to them that we already have the largest auto manufacturing plant west of the Mississippi right here in Fremont.

I was surprised how many people didn’t even know this. I didn’t meet one single Fremont resident who complained about the smell or noise or traffic from the plant. What NUMMI showed is that you can have a huge factory right in the middle of town, provide thousands of jobs, and not detract from the high quality of life that we have here in Fremont.

I want to say that I really feel for the people who’ve been impacted by the closure. I lost my job in a mass layoff not too long ago and it was one of the worst experiences of my adult life. I don’t mind admitting I went home and cried.

The loss of these jobs not only impacted the workers directly, they impact the entire community. Of course, there are the companies that directly supplied NUMMI with parts that are affected. There are many other businesses that are impacted as well. I heard from a florist who said NUMMI was one of his bigger customers. The owner of the place where I get my haircut told me that business was off as many of his customers were NUMMI employees.

Another factor to consider is the salary of workers that lose manufacturing jobs and are forced to take non-manufacturing jobs. A study prepared for the Alameda County Workforce Investment Board noted that the average salary of workers transferring from manufacturing jobs to other jobs dropped from an average of $65,000 to an average of $42,000. Obviously, this drop in salary is not only hard on the individual workers and their families, but hurts the regional economy as overall spending power is reduced.

This is why I believe the most important task at hand is to work to restore the manufacturing jobs that were lost by the closure of NUMMI.

Restoring manufacturing jobs is not just important for Fremont’s economy. It’s important for the national economy. The US economy lost a total of 6 million manufacturing jobs in the last decade. Restoring manufacturing jobs is essential for revitalizing the national economy. In my opinion, it’s pretty simple. If you want to revive your economy, you need to actually make things that people need, not focus on businesses that do nothing but move money around.

The good news is that we have a president that agrees with the importance of manufacturing. President Obama has dedicated much of the stimulus money towards generating manufacturing jobs. I recently attended a conference in Newark that focused on the possibility of restoring manufacturing to the NUMMI site. Ro Khanna from the Commerce Department and Congresswoman Barbara Lee were both there and called for more domestic manufacturing.

I would like to read a brief quote from President Obama. He says “I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don’t either.  It is time for America to lead again.” The Obama administration is actively pushing for legislation to create manufacturing jobs, especially in the green technology sector.

So, how do we restore manufacturing jobs at the NUMMI site? First, we need to keep all of our options open. I’ve heard a number of different possibilities suggested for the NUMMI site. Quentin Kopp suggested the facility could be used to manufacture high-speed rail cars. Representatives from Chinese automakers were recently here looking at the NUMMI plant. There have been electric car companies expressing interest. While these opportunities may be seen as long shots, we need to vigorously pursue all of these types of opportunities.

At the conference in Newark I mentioned, we heard from six different companies all of whom do their manufacturing here in the Bay Area. What was exciting was the diversity of these companies. There was Solyndra, the solar panel manufacturer, another company that is using algae to produce alternative fuels, a medical device maker, a drug manufacturer, a fiber-optic switch manufacturer, and finally a company that focuses on energy-saving building retrofits. There is indeed a wide range of manufacturing opportunities that we should be pursuing.

I want to focus in on one key manufacturing opportunity that we have, and that is in green technology. Now, it’s true that there has been a lot of hype about ‘green jobs’. But if there’s one thing that I’d like you to remember from my talk here today, it’s that the opportunity to bring green jobs to Fremont is very real.

The movement to create green jobs has grown increasingly powerful because of the wide range of the people supporting it. I serve as a representative for the Alameda Labor Council on the Alameda County Workforce Investment Board and many leaders of the labor movement are focusing very seriously on green jobs. I also serve on the Executive Committee of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club and I can tell you that the environmental movement is focusing more and more on green jobs.

There’s a group called the Blue Green Alliance that has been lobbying for legislation to promote green jobs. This group was founded by an alliance of the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club who have continued to work closely with each other on a number of recent issues.

There’s another group that has also shown a lot of interest in the green jobs movement, and that is businesses themselves. Companies like General Electric and Applied Materials have entered the solar market. Cisco is heavily researching Smart Grid technology. Indeed, business sees this as a huge emerging market that they are actively trying to get into.

I mentioned that the push for green jobs is coming down from the president himself.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act, also known as the climate bill, is currently working its way through Congress. While there are some business interests that oppose the climate bill, there are many businesses that are eagerly awaiting its passage. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal just this week about the number of businesses that are in favor of the climate bill.

The U.S. Climate Action Partnership, which includes over two dozen Fortune 500 companies, has urged congress to pass the bill quickly. There are several other business organizations, representing thousands of businesses, that are doing the same.

One of the reasons that so many businesses are behind this bill is because it now includes something called Investments for Manufacturing Progress and Clean Technology. This IMPACT Act would help small and medium-sized manufacturers transition to the clean energy economy through a $30 billionManufacturing Revolving Loan Fund. The fund would allow small and medium-sized manufacturers to improve energy efficiency, retool for the clean energy industry, and expand our nation’s clean energy manufacturing operations.

Next week there is a conference on Green Jobs in Washington D.C. Nancy Pelosi will be speaking there. The event is sponsored by blue chip companies, environmentalists and labor unions.

Indeed, the interest in green technology is very high and our government has shown a strong commitment to invest in this technology.

Not only is there great potential for green jobs, green jobs are already here. And they’re here to stay. A study done last year showed that there were 770,000 “clean energy” jobs in the United States in 2007. That’s about four times the number of people working in the biotech industry. Also, in the 10 years before this study was done, the number of jobs in this field grew at over nine percent while the average rate for job growth in the U.S. was under four percent for the same time period.

Some of the companies in this sector are real powerhouses. There’s a company in Western Washington called Itron that develops smart grids. They employ 9,000 people. In San Jose there’s a solar company called Sun Power that has over 5,000 employees. And we all know about Solyndra that will be bringing over 1,000 jobs to Fremont.

Just this week a project was approved to construct 130 huge wind turbines off the coast of Massachusetts. Of course, it takes manufacturing jobs to build these turbines.

With numbers like these, one can’t deny the reality of the green technology movement.

Another reason to be optimistic about bringing green jobs to the NUMMI site is that we have a lot to offer over other potential sites. NUMMI is located near railroad tracks, in between two major freeways, and the soon to be constructed Warm Springs BART station. We also have an excellent workforce which is one of the key things that employers look for.

Not surprisingly, the report I mentioned before that looked at green jobs in the United States listed the Bay Area as the number one area in the country for green jobs.

The NUMMI site is huge which can be intimidating. How can we possibly find a company big enough to fill such a large space? That’s were creativity comes in. If we can’t find one large company, what about a group of companies working together in an eco-industrial park which could attract the brightest talent in the industry. What about an incubator for start-up manufacturing companies, maybe with a focus on non-traditional entrepreneurs like woman and minorities? With a little creativity, I’m confident we can find lots of great uses for that site that will generate good new, well-paying, green jobs.

The reality of climate change and peak oil is necessitating a fundamental change in the way we do business. In my opinion, we simply can’t continue doing things the way we’ve been doing them and expect to prosper. The good news is that there are many opportunities to create living wage jobs as we go about making these fundamental changes.

Over the next few decades we will need to develop more solar panels. We will need to develop more wind turbines. We will need to find other sources of alternative energy. We will need to start building electric cars. We will need to retrofit our existing buildings to be more energy efficient. We will need to re-design our cities to be less dependent on the automobile. There will be a lot of things that we need to get done, and a lot of jobs created to get it all done.

Some people have taken a doom and gloom attitude that we will never bring back the manufacturing jobs that have been lost because of the NUMMI closure. I refuse to succumb to that kind of pessimism. I grew up in the 60’s and remember the attitude around the Apollo mission where we prided ourselves on our American ingenuity. We looked up at the moon and said that we’re going to do what has never been done before. And we succeeded.

Speaking of the Apollo mission, I’m reminded of the scene in Apollo 13 where someone notes that the mission could end up being a disaster. The NASA flight director replies and says “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.” I’m hoping that the NUMMI site’s finest hour is yet to come. With proper planning, I believe this site could be a green job hub that our entire country could be proud of.

And since I’m quoting from the Apollo 13 movie, let me mention one more. And that is “Failure is not an option.” I believe that this is also appropriate to our current situation. We’re talking about providing living wage jobs for thousands and thousands of people. We’re talking about bringing enormous economic benefits to the City of Fremont. We’re talking about helping to revitalize the US economy. All of these things are vital to our future and we should do everything we can to ensure that we don’t fail here.

Thank you very much for letting me speak here today.

There were a number of green tech vendors at the event including Tesla.