Job growth in California is going green


Green businesses are blooming in California, creating jobs at a faster pace than the broader economy, a new study has found.

The report from Next 10, a nonprofit research group in Palo Alto, explores California’s “core green economy,” including areas such as research and advocacy, finance and investment, energy efficiency, recycling and building. The study, to be released today, determined that the number of green companies surged 45% from 1995 to 2008, and total jobs in areas such as energy efficiency, renewable fuels and clean tech grew 36%. During the same period general employment in the state expanded just 13%.

From January 2007 to January 2008 green jobs increased 5% while total jobs declined 1%.

The number of green jobs in the Golden State jumped to 159,000 in 2008 from 117,000 in 1995, an average annual growth rate of 2.4%, according to what Next 10 called “the most comprehensive accounting” of the sector ever conducted.

Many of the green jobs represent occupations that existed long before the green boom, such as electricians, carpenters and supply chain managers. But the eco-friendly economy is also spawning new job descriptions, such as energy auditors and solar photovoltaic installers.

Some highlights:

* Median annual earnings range from $21,000 to more than $130,000.

* The Sacramento area led green job growth with an 87% jump, followed by the San Diego region with 57%, the San Francisco Bay Area with 51% and the Orange County and Inland Empire area with 50%.

* The Bay Area dominates energy research and consulting, while the San Joaquin Valley has a high concentration of jobs in wind generation. The North Coast and Sacramento areas take precedence in geothermal power; the Sacramento Valley is a hot spot for biomass.

* Service-based green jobs, such as environmental consulting, make up 45% of green employment. Manufacturing, focused in energy efficiency and energy generation, accounts for another 21%.

The industry is still too small to drag the state out of its jobs slump but could at least nudge the economy toward recovery.

“Green jobs are not a panacea,” said Noel Perry, a venture capitalist and founder of Next 10. “But this is the foundation of the green economy, and all the trend lines are up.”

The strength of California’s green economy is a reflection of early legislative mandates and a business community that has long been open to eco-friendly strategies and change, said Doug Henton, co-founder of Collaborative Economics, the Silicon Valley firm that prepared the report for Next 10.

“We have markets and we have policies that have favored energy efficiency,” Henton said. “But part of these trends isn’t about doing the same thing. California can be a leader in coming up with new approaches and exporting them across the country and globally.”