Going green to put more green into the Valley economy

Story by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net
 

Don’t call Bob Satterwhite and ask him to line you up with a green job. It’s not quite to that level yet, but the $5 million federal grant to the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Investment Board announced earlier this year is moving us in the direction of being on the cutting edge of the emerging green-industry sector.

“What we will be able to do in the near future is furnish companies with a trained workforce, and you can’t go anywhere in the United States and find a workforce that’s trained in green-technology jobs,” said Satterwhite, the director of the Harrisonburg-based Workforce Investment Board, which is managing the Valley-wide effort to create a green-jobs program that will train workers for the jobs of the 21st century.

The effort will engage colleges and universities up and down the Valley, including Blue Ridge Community College and James Madison University. The grant to the Valley effort was one of just 55 awarded from more than 2,000 applications for training grants submitted nationwide.

The success of the grant application was aided by a study funded by SRI International in Harrisonburg that shows strong potential for the Valley to serve as a key center for the green-jobs sector.

“The agenda is to increase the level of engineering, math and science that students are doing at JMU, Bridgewater, different schools here in the area. The effort has been under way for quite a while. The $5 million grant is sort of recognition that we’re onto something here and that we’ve been able to draw these resources,” Staunton economic-development director Bill Hamilton said.

Erik Curren, the founder of Staunton Green 2020 and Transition Staunton Augusta, two local groups that promote the development of a sustainable local economy, sees another advantage in the local workforce.

“We already have a workforce here that’s trained to manufacture stuff. So it wouldn’t be that hard to retrain these folks to put together solar panels or wind turbines,” said Curren, who as a candidate for the 20th District House of Delegates seat in 2009 proposed a plan to have the Valley set itself up as a green jobs demonstration zone to show the viability of the green economy on a national scale.

“We’ve got good capacity for solar. We’ve got good capacity for wind. We’ve got decent capacity for small-scale hydroelectric. And we’ve got some capacity for bioenergy, whether that’s switchgrass that you would burn to create heat on the farm, or you would turn your switchgrass or soybean into a liquid fuel like ethanol or biodiesel,” Curren said.

“The other part to this is, we need these jobs now. We’ve got a high unemployment rate in the Valley. This is the time when we need those new jobs the most,” Curren said.
 
 

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