Authors: Julie Roberts
Last week was amazing. Green For All, along with its local partners pulled together Building Detroit's Middle Class Through Green Manufacturing, a special convening to explore how green manufacturing can revitalize Detroit's economy. It was only fitting that this event happened in a city whose own story so closely mirrors that of the rest of the country: a formerly thriving industrial center now in the midst of redefining itself.
When Green For All’s local partners in Detroit asked us to help them host this event, we recruited an outstanding local steering committee to help (see sidebar) assemble a robust group of panelists to explore three essential themes:
- supports available to green manufacturing businesses in Detroit;
- policies to create and support local markets; and
- workforce development pipelines for historically underemployed communities into middle class manufacturing positions.
The panelists discussed both the successes in Detroit — including practices that could be replicated elsewhere — and the continuing challenges in bringing green manufacturing to scale in the city.
The convening shed a lot of light on the current state of green manufacturing in Detroit. We learned that new green companies in renewable sectors such as wind, solar, and batteries are locating to Michigan, but are not necessarily coming to Detroit, whose existing manufacturing infrastructure is not as robust as that in the suburbs and beyond. Participants then identified several keys to tackling this disparity and attracting (and retaining) small and medium-sized suppliers to the city center, including: the right land use policies; providing access to capital; aligning public programs that effectively serve a new economic landscape; and assessing gaps in workforce development.
Participants were not short on ideas, including: the creation of a "green economy master plan" to identify ways to make Deroit more competitive; connecting green manufacturers to each other locally and helping them grow; and promoting Community Benefits Agreements to maximize the local returns on public investments while simultaneously creating jobs for the chronically unemployed and underemployed in Detroit.
Panelists also noted that the federal government must create policies that increase the demand for green manufacturing, such as a strong Climate Bill, "Buy America" provisions to create domestic capacity, supports for manufacturers transitioning to a clean economy, and the ability to use TARP money for small business loans.
Despite the challenges facing Detroit, several best practices emerged that will help frame Green For All's national Communities of Practice conversations going forward:
- Michigan's No Worker Left Behind is an employer-driven program to help transition workers into good-paying jobs by providing up to two years worth of free tuition at any community college, university or other approved training provider.
- Workforce agencies have found success in closing the gap between the need for supportive services (training stipends, basic math and reading skills development, transportation, etc.) and the funds available to provide them by leveraging private funds for these elements while advocating for public money to be more aligned with the supports workers need.
- Wings of Faith and the Jackson Area Manufacturing Association have started a new partnership that will map existing manufacturing apprenticeship programs (which are not standard across the sector and even differ within the same union) for job seekers, and work to provide backroom support for companies currently without apprenticeships.
Green For All is humbled by the great group of participants that came together to think through how they can build an inclusive green economy in their city — and inspire others throughout the country to do the same. We are looking forward to continuing to support this important work.