Vermont Manufacturers Reap Rewards From Growing Green Market

July 2, 2007
The state is trying to make itself the center for innovative environment technologies, much as the Silicon Valley is an incubator for information technology.

Since 1998, the U.S. lost approximately 3.5 million manufacturing jobs. The automobile industry, once the backbone of the sector, continues to experience loss in market share. States, cities and regions across the U.S. have implemented a variety of initiatives aimed to adapt to changes in the global economy.

But, it's not all bad news. The U.S. manufacturing industry is actually growing in one sector: clean energy equipment.

The state of Vermont, which like most states suffered its share of manufacturing losses, is well positioned to reap the benefits of this growth.

The heightened global awareness for the need of environmentally friendly energy sources has caused a flurry of investments in the sector. In fact, $4.5 billion was invested in publicly held solar companies in 2006 with the majority of the money allocated to the manufacturing side. Additionally, revenues for renewable energy companies last year increased by $55.4 billion globally.

Hundreds of environmental companies and institutions focusing on wind, hydrogen, solar, organic and methane energy sources have existed in Vermont long before the hype. Since the 1970's, its environmentally conscious culture has reflected on its businesses and economy. And its workforce is among the most educated and hard-working in the country, as well as one of the most entrepreneurial.

A Vermont company whose offices feature its own technology, Draker SolarDesignis, is experiencing significant growth. The company manufactures diagnostic equipment essential for the efficient use of solar power. Their products monitor and archive the performance of solar panels so that power production can be maximized. Their goal is to "make green technologies, especially renewable energy, accessible to everyone."

Draker has successfully provided renewable energy system design assistance to Sustainable Energy Solutions, Inc. in order to turn their photovoltaic equipment into a fully functional solar utility. Currently, photovoltaic solar power controls 95% of the solar energy market.

NRG Systems, a manufacturer in the wind energy industry, plans to expand its 46,000 square feet manufacturing facility in Hinesburg, Vt. to meet the growing demand in the industry and to accommodate the company's anticipated growth. Celebrating 25 years in the wind energy industry, NRG wind energy assessment systems can be found in more than 110 countries, serving electric utilities, wind farm developers, research institutes, government agencies, universities and homeowners.

While a number of its green manufacturers are taking advantage of the growing industry, Vermont is looking to expand its brand as a state open to environmentally friendly businesses. Vermont Governor Jim Douglas and business leaders in the state visited China in June to offer its environmental services to the country. During the trip the delegation met with environmental officials and other governmental leaders at the national and provincial levels, acquainting Chinese decision-makers with Vermont's products and expertise in a broad range of environmental remediation specialties.

Governor Douglas has promoted the Green Valley Initiative, a plan to create a business climate in Vermont that supports existing environmental goods and services businesses through networking, education and marketing, and promotes the formation of new EGS companies and the relocation of entrepreneurial EGS companies to the state. Douglas hopes to make Vermont the center for innovative environment technologies, much as the Silicon Valley is an incubator for information technology.

Additionally, Governor Douglas recently proposed his Environmental Engineering Initiative to make Vermont a world leader in the field. That included putting greater emphasis on math, science and technology education through a system of specialized, and largely, virtual schools; a recruiting program; and the creation of the Environmental Engineering Advisory Council (EEAC), which provides assistance to environmental engineering firms seeking to locate in Vermont. The EEAC has already recruited URS Corp., one of the largest engineering firms in the world, to open a new environmental engineering office in the state.

These initiatives will only fuel Vermont's economy. And with the manufacturing industry turning to clean energy as a source for its revival, Vermont stands ready to meet the growing demand.

Michael Quinn was appointed Commissioner of Economic Development in February, 2003. Quinn has played a key role in developing and implementing Governor Jim Douglas' plans to expand entrepreneurial activity in Vermont through coordination of business incubators, SBIR and promoting capital investment efforts including the annual Vermont Investors Forum.

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