Though I have lived in California for nearly all of my adult life, I am a Midwestern boy at heart. I mostly grew up in the leafy burbs of Chicagoland, but I spent a lot of my childhood in the very rural reaches of southwestern Wisconsin on the banks of the muddy Kickapoo. I spent long, sweltering summer days pulling weeds from our rows of zucchini and tomatoes or being chased by our fierce, pecking hens. Our family still has a farm there, where we rent our fields to neighbors who grow soy, corn and alfalfa to feed their pigs and cows.
This part of the Midwest is hilly, rugged, achingly beautiful and very poor. Crawford County, WI has an average annual wage of just above $33,000 and a median household income that is 25% lower than the national average and nearly 2.5 times lower than San Mateo County, CA, where I now live. There are a few manufacturing jobs, some work to be found at schools and hospitals and a clutch of jobs at the Supermax prison in Boscobel. And of course people still farm. But the options are not many—the population is aging as many of the young flee for the cities the first chance they get. It’s a common story across the Midwest, and one that has led to the kind of socio-political discord our country is now experiencing.
That is why the upswing of clean energy jobs across the Midwest is such good news. A new report by Environmental Entrepreneurs released today shows that jobs in solar, wind and energy efficiency are outpacing overall job growth in most Midwestern states at a clip of 6% per year.
This job growth in the Midwest is a microcosm of growth in renewable energy jobs worldwide. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency’s new Annual Review 2018, the industry added more than 500,000 jobs globally, pushing total employment in renewables past the 10 million job milestone, with solar PV jobs leading the pack with growth of nearly 9%.
E2 recently released its second in a series of state-by-state clean energy maps, detailing the type and location of clean energy business and renewable energy facilities in Illinois. And the opportunities are not limited to clean energy. In my
recent conversation with E2 Chair Nicole Lederer, I learned that agriculture itself is at the forefront of the transition to a low carbon future. With advances in precision agriculture , low and no-till farming, lower carbon fertilizers, soil sequestration and super-efficient irrigation, there are new opportunities for clean tech entrepreneurs, agricultural engineers, scientists and farmers to do well by doing good.