Guest post by Amy Francetic, CEO of Clean Energy Trust, an AEE partner organization in Illinois.
Clean Energy Trust is a Chicago-based nonprofit that works to launch, fund and grow clean energy companies in the Midwest. In just three years, we have helped launch over 100 clean energy startups that have created more than 280 jobs, registered more than 41 patents and disclosures and turned $750,000 in initial investment into over $40 million in funds raised. We work every day with early stage clean energy entrepreneurs – providing funding, mentorship and commercialization assistance – so we know how important it is to foster a clean energy “ecosystem” that helps them thrive.
Last week, we released Clean Jobs Illinois, an in-depth look at clean energy employment in our state. This report was based on a survey of clean energy businesses conducted by BW Research Partnership, an industry leading workforce and economic development research firm. The survey found that there are 96,875 clean energy workers in the state, more than Illinois’ real estate and accounting industries combined, and that employment in the industry is expected to grow by 9 percent in 2014.
But we wanted Clean Jobs Illinois to be about more than just the numbers. We wanted to reach and inform audiences who can impact the clean energy industry – decision makers who shape policy, consumers who buy goods and services, and students and workers who could join the industry. When most people think clean energy, they think solar panels and wind farms, so our survey release introduced a definition of clean energy that reflects the breadth of the industry: “Clean energy refers to a wide variety of technologies that create or conserve energy and help us meet our 21st century resource challenges.” We also emphasized that how we use energy is as important as how we produce it, which was reflected in the survey results by the 62 percent of businesses with energy efficiency as their primary focus.
The clean energy story is compelling and optimistic, and we wanted Clean Jobs Illinois to convey that in a way that typical industry surveys do not. A new dedicated website, CleanJobsIllinois.com, has brought to life the survey results with engaging infographics, interactive content and links that invite people to get involved in the clean energy industry through various avenues. The website and report also feature profiles of real clean energy workers – like Adam Reich, an Army veteran who installs energy efficiency and geothermal systems and Rose McGee, a manufacturing supervisor who builds next-generation batteries. These are stories we will continue to use to showcase the importance of the industry to everyday Illinoisans.
In total, the survey effort required more than 27,000 phone calls and more than 9,000 emails, with nearly 1,600 businesses providing information. Our survey partners – Environmental Entrepreneurs, The Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Natural Resources Defense Council – provided valuable resources and analysis for the report. Last week, the report release was covered in media outlets like Politico and Crain’s Chicago Business and has reached wider audiences thanks to promotion from great partners like Advanced Energy Economy.
Most importantly, Clean Jobs Illinois has helped us increase awareness and understanding of clean energy as a significant and growing part of the state’s economy. We are now running a digital advertising campaign, created and implemented for us by AEE, which will heighten awareness even further. That will help us in efforts to fix our state’s broken Renewable Portfolio Standard and jump-start a segment of our industry that has recently stalled. There could be no better time to tell the Illinois clean energy story.