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Missouri's just middlin' when it comes to "green jobs" but has potential to grow more

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 18, 2009 - When it comes to "green jobs,'' Missouri ranks in the middle.

So says a new study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which looked at all 50 states to see how they stack up regarding the clean-energy economy that environmentalists and others tout as the wave of the future.

According to the study, released this week, Missouri ranks 23rd nationally in the number of "clean-energy businesses," 22nd in the number of such jobs, and 35th when it comes to the percentage of growth.

The latest figures, from 2007, show Missouri with 11,714 clean-energy jobs, which the study says is up 5.4 percent from 1998. That's more than twice the percentage of overall job-growth in the state during that same period, the study says.

Lori Grange, head of the research unit for the Pew Center on the States, called the findings evidence of the potential of clean-energy jobs to be "an economic engine'' in Missouri. In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Grange and other advocates cited several St. Louis area corporate and non-profit examples of supportive clean-energy efforts -- notably Monsanto and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

Christopher Chung, chief executive officer for the Missouri Partnership, said that other possibilities abound. He cited the potential of using aerospace or auto manufacturing technology to build energy-producing wind turbines, for example.

"For us, it's about continuing to put Missouri on the map," Chung said. He said that the expansion of clean-energy jobs are "one of the clear areas" that could provide alternate employment for the growing number of autoworkers now out of jobs.

But clean-energy jobs are a tiny fraction of Missouri's overall workforce. And while support for such job-creation is bi-partisan, the Missouri Republican Party and many of its political leaders question the vigor of the Obama administration's current push toward the clean-energy industry.

State GOP executive director Lloyd Smith said that the administration's cap-and-trade proposal, aimed at curbing pollution emissions, amounted to an energy tax that would be particularly devastating to states like Missouri that rely heavily on coal.

"The transition to so-called clean-energy jobs, while we lose other jobs, could be brutal," Smith said. He also questioned whether, in the short term, the new wave of clean-energy jobs could match, for example, the $40,000-$65,000 a year that a worker now makes in the aluminum or auto industry.

Grange disputed the low-wage image attached to many clean-energy jobs, saying that the typical pay ranges from $21,000 to $110,000 a year, according to Pew's findings.

In any case, one of the key issues now, said Chung, is Missouri's image as a non-player in the clean-energy industry -- despite the various success stories in the state. "Perception lags behind reality," he said.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.