Energizing Job Growth in Pittsburgh
Front and center among these is the energy industry. As the population of the U.S. and the world continues to grow, the demand for energy will also grow. But as concern about the environmental impacts of energy also increases, the demand for cleaner forms of energy will grow even faster.
The Pittsburgh Region is uniquely positioned to ride these trends into the future, regardless of what happens with Congressional energy legislation, because of our diversification across both renewable and traditional energy sources:
Wind. Our region’s role in wind energy isn’t limited to wind turbines on our mountaintops. For example, Converteam in O’Hara Township is a global leader in electrical systems for wind energy. One of the world’s leading wind energy companies, Gamesa, makes turbine blades in Ebensburg.
Solar. We don’t need a lot of sunny days to be a world leader in solar power. For example, Solar Power Industries in Belle Vernon is a top international supplier of solar panels. Plextronics, a Carnegie Mellon spinoff, is developing cutting-edge technologies that could revolutionize the way solar energy is generated.
Nuclear. For over half a century, the Pittsburgh region has been the center of the nuclear power industry. Westinghouse built the first commercial nuclear power plant in the world here, and it remains the global leader in the field, which has resulted in thousands of new jobs for our region.
Natural Gas. Where’s the biggest new source of natural gas? It’s right here in Western Pennsylvania in the Marcellus Shale. Companies tapping that resource have already created jobs in the region, with the potential for hundreds more.
Coal. Even the most optimistic projections about renewable and nuclear energy show that coal-generated power will still be the largest source of electricity in the U.S. and other countries for many decades. Not only is the Pittsburgh Region a major coal producer, it’s a leader in finding ways to make coal cleaner, through the research being conducted here by Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh, West Virginia University, CONSOL Energy, and the National Energy Technology Laboratory.
Efficiency. One of the best ways to ensure the country meets its need for energy is to reduce the size of the need. The Pittsburgh Region is a leader in creating energy-efficient green buildings, and companies like Appalachian Lighting Systems in Ellwood City are developing technologies to improve energy efficiency.
Job growth isn’t limited to businesses focused on energy-related products and services; jobs are also being created in a wide range of supplier businesses in our region. For example, Ellwood Group is one of the major producers for steel components used in wind turbines, PPG provides structural composites and coatings for turbine blades, and Hamill Manufacturing supplies precision-machined components to the nuclear, solar, and wind industries.
What’s the single biggest challenge all these companies face? Finding enough workers! The good news for people who’ve lost work in other sectors is that jobs in energy-related firms pay well and most don’t require esoteric degrees in energy science. They’re jobs like machinists, welders, electricians, carpenters, manufacturing technicians, quality inspectors, and many others that require associate degrees, apprenticeships, etc.
We can’t take growth in the energy sector for granted, however. We need to actively encourage it. Just as our region supports the biotechnology, robotics, and information technology sectors through dedicated organizations, we’re fortunate to have a “greenhouse” dedicated to the energy sector – it’s called 3 Rivers Clean Energy, and it’s working to help energy companies address workforce shortages and obtain the resources they need to grow. You can learn more about the opportunities in the energy sector and how you can help at www.3riverscleanenergy.org.
(A version of this post was published as the Regional Insights Column in the July 5, 2009 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)