The Triangle is the nation's second-fastest growing region for green jobs, according to a report issued today by the Brookings Institution, one of this country's most influential think tanks.
The Brookings report, "Sizing the Clean Economy," is the first attempt at a comprehensive assessment of the nation's green jobs sector. Regional studies issued in the past have not been consistent in how they define and count green jobs, making comparisons all but useless.
For example, North Carolina had nearly 79,000 green collar jobs in 2010, according to the Brookings count. That total is bigger by orders of magnitude than the 12,500 green jobs counted last year by the state's green-collar advocacy group, the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association.
Still, the Brookings study tells us something valuable: that North Carolina has the nation's 11th largest statewide green economy, while the Triangle is the 30th largest regional green economy.
Brookings says the Triangle had 16,677 clean economy jobs last year, a 13.7 percent increase from 2003. Only Knoxville, Tenn., grew at a faster clip, even through the Triangle's clean jobs sector is bigger than Knoxville's.
The report says the average wage in the Triangle's green sector was $40,795 in 2009. That's not far off from the average for the nation's 100 largest metro areas, which was $43,133.
"Raleigh has a disproportionate number of jobs in training, smart grid, pollution reduction, regulation, and architecture and construction services," the report says. "In Raleigh, job expansions were largely attributable to the government and public transit segments, with small contributions from smart grid and a few others."
Duke University recently issued a study identifying the Triangle as one of the nation's hubs for smart grid development and research.
Brookings, generally described as a liberal think tank, takes an expansive view of the green economy, including such categories as retail, legal, arts, entertainment, food services and insurance. By the Brookings count, the U.S. clean jobs sector is bigger than the fossil fuels industry.
The purpose of the study is to impress legislators and policy makers with the size of the clean tech sector and its importance in keeping Americans employed. Brookings advocates federal, state and local policies to keep the clean jobs sector alive -- policies such as tax breaks, incentives, carbon emissions limits and R&D funding.
"This is not an area where the public sector needs to get out of the way," a Brookings executive is quoted in the organization's press release. "Government leaders, at all levels, need to get in the game."
Skeptics will undoubtedly question the need for lavish government support of an industry that is so vibrant.