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Slow trickle of new 'green' jobs a mixed blessing for Connecticut

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With the state expected to lose thousands of jobs this year, Zerodraft is hiring.

The company, which weatherizes homes to increase energy efficiency, is adding more employees to deal with an increase in business driven by federal grants.

Over the next several months, owner Paul Paris Jr. expects to create five new jobs at the Waterford site and as many as eight in a second office, in Norwalk.

The firm installs foam and cellulose insulation and replaces drafty windows and doors.

"I'm looking to do more," Paris said. "I'm going to need to increase my staffing to handle the workload. We're also able to retain a few of the jobs we would have had to lay off."

More than $1.8 billion in stimulus funding to create jobs and retrain workers has been awarded to the state of Connecticut from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Of that, about $141 million covers green jobs or projects in Connecticut that increase energy efficiency, develop the state's renewable energy work force and weatherize people's homes, said Matthew Fritz, special assistant to Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

The most recent round of green grant awards totals $8.2 million with another $5.5 million pending, he said.

Rell put the plan into action a year ago this month, with the intent of creating green-collar jobs in the state.

Federal weatherization funds totaling $64.5 million that became available late last year are expected to add 640 jobs to the state economy, said Mary Ann Hanley, policy adviser in the state's Office of Workforce Competitiveness. Grants for the energy sector, Pathways Out of Poverty, and Green Building Capacity programs should create about 750 jobs, she said.

So far, Fritz said, the federal funds have translated into paying jobs for some 15,000 people through full- and part-time positions.

"There are energy efficiency gains and permanent jobs" resulting from this funding, Fritz said. "It's hard to put a multiplier on what you get out of a career. You can't put a dollar figure on that. The Recovery Act has many benefits and one of those is to grow tomorrow's work force."

But Fred Carstensen, an economist with the University of Connecticut's Center for Economic Analysis, said the jobs created are hardly enough to offset the 95,000 jobs lost in Connecticut in the last 11 months, or the 15,000 more jobs expected to disappear before the economy stabilizes.

The flight of high-paying jobs out of state will not be offset by the creation of jobs like building analyst or energy auditor, Carstensen said.

The ARRA funding "is … not going to have a visible impact on unemployment in the state of Connecticut," he added. "It's not a solution."

Peter Gioia, an economist with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, agreed.

"New technologies implemented will ultimately strengthen the job base in Connecticut," Gioia said, "but people will be expecting - and the government is promising - too much in these initiatives becoming mass job creators. I don't see that they will be."

Openings at
the right time

To one worker already tested by unemployment, however, the federal funding that is stimulating demand for weatherization work is a godsend.

Dayush Donyavi of Colchester, who oversees Zerodraft's Norwalk office and works as an energy auditor for the company as well, was unemployed when he got the job six months ago. He had been working at a pharmaceutical company in Delaware five months prior to that when he was laid off.

Now, he's earning comparable pay, which he declined to disclose, and feels confident about the future.

"The bottom line is, I had a fantastic job and I lost it due to the economy," Donyavi said. "I fortunately was able to get this job at Zerodraft. I am able to sustain my livelihood, and I'm not on unemployment. I went from one career to another with very little in-between."

Whatever their limitations, programs to develop green jobs are timely, Gioia said.

"I think we will see a large number of jobs that will not be created but converted to green, and that will have a lot less to do with government assistance (and more to do with) consumer preference and pressure from larger corporations who want to have a totally green supply chain."

Will jobs survive?

Helping employers connect with the work force are nonprofits like the Hartford-based Community Renewal Team. Jason Smith is a project manager for CRT's Weatherization program. His territory - one of five regions in the state - covers Connecticut's mid-section.

"I have a total of more than 68 different companies that would not have had this weatherization work if the state did not spend this money," Smith said. "We get this business into the hands of those who are qualified and insured to do the work."

So-called green jobs identified by the Rell administration include electricians, energy-efficient appliance installers, chemists, building analysts and landscapers.

"If you're going to do green building codes, you're going to need green architects and engineers, and that's where these jobs need to move," Hanley added, by way of example. "So, it's not just the entry-level positions, it's all levels across the continuum."

Jobs created will in many cases remain full-time or long-term after the money is no longer available, Fritz said.

"That's what we're striving to do: have these jobs continue after the funding disappears," he said. "We're not counting indirect or induced jobs, so there are collateral benefits to all these programs that are not being calculated."

Carstensen remains skeptical.

"My question is, 'Are we going after this aggressively? Are the state agencies out there helping firms get this money?' " he asked. "A small company with a lot of employees … may not know how to go out and get this money."

"We've been doing that pretty much from day one," said Fritz. "The state agencies, all of them, have been very aggressive in meeting with stakeholders and helping them navigate the federal system. "

John Beauregard, executive director of the nonprofit Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board, said his agency is helping coordinate plans to use state Energy Sector training grants to "develop the talent to make sure we can fill these jobs."

"What we're after there is to build the capacity of not only our education system but our work force development system to be ready for the types of needs employers will have in and around the renewable energy and energy efficiency field," Beauregard said.

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