Morial said that his organization is hoping to win a major grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to train people in poverty-level communities to prepare for green jobs.
Jen Worth, program manager for the American Association of Community Colleges’ Center for Workforce and Economic Development, pointed out that community colleges are playing a significant role in training or retraining people interested in green jobs. “Reach out, because we have stories and models from all across the country in a lot of different sectors,” she said.
Public policy can also play a pivotal role in getting minority communities involved. In a letter to National Economic Council director Larry Summers, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of California; and Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee, of California, Morial proposed a six-point job creation plan that includes creating Green Empowerment Zones in areas where at least 50% of the population has an unemployment rate that is higher than the state average. Manufacturers of wind turbines or solar panels, for example, that open plants in these high unemployment areas would for a period of three years be eligible for a three-year holiday from federal and capital gains taxes if they hire and retain for that period at least 50% of their workforce from green empowerment zones.
Small business owners willing to open green businesses in those empowerment zones may be the most important catalyst to ensure the inclusion of minorities in green industries. Scott Sklar, president of the Stella Group Ltd., said entry is relatively easy and less capital-intensive than many other industries.
His advice to minority entrepreneurs who are interested in building green businesses is to network with organizations such as the Solar Energy Industries Association. “Find out who they are and just start talking to them,” he said. “Once you network and see the lay of the land in your area, look at the gaps … Find out where you think a new idea would make something work faster and better and then go for it.”
When forming a business that would weatherize or retrofit buildings, for example, it’s also important to create the right team. That team should include a strong logistics person “who knows how to order, store and move stuff”; someone who knows how to market the kinds of customers you’re looking at; and someone who has a construction background or technical expertise.
Sometimes you don’t actually have to reinvent yourself, but can use what you already know to build a green industry business, said Carolyn Green, managing partner of the Pennsylvania-based Energreen Capital Management, a private equity fund in formation.
Construction management firms with experience constructing small businesses can transition to constructing green businesses, she said. Or a fabricator of precision parts may consider how to begin using those parts to create smart grid readers.
“It’s those sorts of areas where you take what you’re already doing and look at how you can supply this marketplace. I think there’s a lot of opportunity in that you don’t have to reinvent yourself necessarily to do that,” Green said. She added that African American executives who’ve worked for energy companies that are closing facilities or eliminating business lines have not only the requisite experience to operate their own energy-based small businesses but also a network through which they can form deals and access capital.