Collaboration around our Core Competencies

As the New Year began, Memphis Bioworks Foundation was awarded a $2.9 million Energy Training Partnership Grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Green Jobs Training Program. The two-year initiative will fund programs to train area workers at local colleges for jobs in energy-efficiency and renewable energy occupations. Memphis was one of only 25 award recipients across the U.S. and I am very pleased to see these funds delivered to our educational and business partners in the region. With the continued focus of Memphis Bioworks on job creation, education and partnership around the biosciences, we view this award as important to Memphis for the following reasons:

1) This grant is a perfect example of collaboration and shared goals. It benefits a 26-county area of West Tennessee and Arkansas, including Dyersburg State Community College, the Eastern Arkansas Workforce Investment Area, Jackson State Community College Mid-South Community College, the National Electrical Contractors Association, Southwest Tennessee Community College, Tennessee Local Workforce Investment Areas # 11, 12, and 13, the University of Memphis BEST Program and multiple employers throughout the region. Memphis, as the unofficial “capitol” of the Delta region, gains every time organizations in this area join together for a common goal. When it comes to green jobs training, the region is stronger together than we can ever be apart.

2) This grant trains workers and improves employment opportunities in one of the most critical fields for the 21st Century — Green Jobs. Two segments of green jobs that exist today are energy-efficient construction and solar energy. Improving the energy efficiency of old and new construction, from weatherization to LEED certification offers green jobs today. The Mid-South climate, compared to that of the year-round sunny Southwest, is not ideal for exporting solar energy. However, we do have an opportunity to utilize solar panels on buildings, thereby reducing the energy demand on traditional petroleum-based energy sources for heating and cooling. Someone must install, manage and maintain these solar panels. As energy costs rise, I believe companies going forward are going need to know that this workforce competence is in place before they consider locating a business in a community. The ARRA Program will focus primarily over the next two years on preparing our workforce for these near-term green jobs.

3) In Memphis, the foundation for the training from this ARRA Grant will leverage the expertise of our critical local partners – Mid-South Community College and Southwest Community College. Many of the anticipated green jobs that come to the region will require at least one or two years of post-secondary education. It is rewarding to see that these institutions serve as innovators in implementing such an important initiative across the region. Along with the involvement of employers in the energy efficiency and renewable energy industries, these colleges — along with others in the region such as Dyersburg State and Jackson State — will meet the vital workforce needs related to Green Jobs.

4) The Delta region has the greatest long-term opportunity for green jobs in the emerging field of biomass — where products made from plants displace products made from petroleum. Biomass refers to agricultural crops and forestry materials which can effectively harness solar energy and through photosynthesis, convert it into a range of useful products based around key plant components such as carbohydrates, fatty acids, proteins, sugars, and starches. These can serve as the chemical building blocks to replace petroleum products to create biofuels, green chemicals, novel polymers, and biomaterials. Memphis can secure a key leadership role in the emerging multi-billion dollar global bioeconomy by leveraging its climate, farmland, logistics and chemical manufacturing capacity. These green jobs sit at the intersection of established regional industries such as agriculture, biotechnology and chemistry, and create a new sector which is already valued at over $140 billion in global sales (Third Time Lucky; The Economist, June 4, 2009). The ARRA grant lays the groundwork to prepare the region for these longer-term opportunities in the green economy.

For Memphis and the region, this nearly $3 million grant is a strong vote of confidence in our ability to transform our economy, if we set our minds to it. That requires cooperation, imagination, and an understanding of the core competencies from which we can build. The ARRA Energy Training Partnership Grant will go a long way in establishing a foundation for making sure we have a workforce that is qualified for today’s green jobs, and the partnerships to continue developing that workforce for those that come in the future. With nearly one in 10 people in Shelby County looking for work, there couldn’t be a better time.

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