Clean Energy Offers Economic Opportunities for Entrepreneurs

Sept. 1, 2011
As small business owners know, clean energy is the wave of the future, and they want to capitalize on opportunities and ensure their businesses are part of the burgeoning clean energy economy.

With the economy still in tatters, politicians, pundits and the press are focusing all their attention on job creation, and with good reason. We must grow our way out of the financial doldrums and one of the best ways to do that is to get people back to work.

Unemployment remains at nearly 10 percent and the best group to help lower that depressing number is small businesses. They are the job generators that traditionally pull the country out of difficult economic times. However, small businesses are having a hard time playing their important role because of soaring health care costs, a paucity of loans, high energy prices and dismal sales. But small businesses are nothing if not innovative and enterprising; they’ll find ways to survive. One of those ways is through what some mistakenly claim is the antithesis of job creation: clean energy policies.

Small Business Majority has conducted extensive opinion polling to find out exactly what small business owners want from clean energy policies, and why they think they’re good for the economy. We released polling on July 29 that found high fuel efficiency standards are essential to sparking job growth and stimulating the economy – sentiments that mirror the deal President Barack Obama recently struck with automakers that raises fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 mpg for cars and light trucks.

We also found that 61 percent of small business owners believe moving the country to clean energy is a way to restart the economy and help small businesses create jobs, and 58 percent believe adopting new energy policies will transform the economy and they want their business to be part of it.

Lobbying for Clean Air

But it’s not just opinions small business owners are offering on the subject, it’s their voices and their actions, too. Small business owners were part of a diverse group of advocates from around the nation who traveled to Washington last month to let lawmakers know clean air, gas-sipping automobiles, green energy technology and the rules that promote them are good for the economy and public health. United by a desire to keep politicians from weakening the Clean Air Act, which is under attack by some in Congress, small business owners and many other supporters of the law flew to our nation’s capitol to praise the progress that has been made in our country as a result of the act.

Clean energy opponents have hijacked public opinion with fiery rhetoric claiming these policies will kill jobs. Considering the economic state of things and those near-double-digit unemployment stats mentioned above, it’s easy to see how some would believe these scare tactics. But scare tactics is all they are. Since when does innovation kill jobs? Since never.

From the desktop computer that was engineered in a garage to new kinds of technologies that save energy, small business people have taken those ideas and created opportunities and jobs. Clean tech – just as high tech did – will create a new class of entrepreneurship and small businesses will reap the rewards that saving energy will bring. This is something small business owners inherently understand and want Congress to understand as well.

Closing Doors Equal New Opportunities

Florida small business owner Kent Crook used the current business climate to create opportunity. Crook had been an electrical contractor for 30 years, and was about to expand his 35-employee company thanks to a $1.5 million loan when the economic floor fell out from beneath him courtesy of the financial collapse. Weeks before the loan was supposed to close, his bank informed him they were having problems and the loan fell through. One economic crisis followed another and in 2008 he closed his doors for good.

But the closing of that door led to the opening of another. He started hearing a lot of buzz about “green” and clean energy, and thought there might be a business opportunity there. A year later, he opened Energy Masters, which installs and repairs solar hot water and pool heating equipment. Three years later, his initial workforce of four has grown to 10 and he’s about to hire number 11, and each year he adds one more truck to his fleet.

“[Clean energy] is something we can use to rebuild our work force,” Crook said. “We’re lacking jobs. If we can get our work force back to work, they’ll build our economy. There’s a ton of people out of work who can be retrained in this industry. If this gets going this will put people back to work.”

But Crook knows there needs to be policies coming out of Washington to help the industry grow.

“Lawmakers can definitely do more to open the floodgates for new business opportunities,” he said. “With increased demand for energy-efficient technologies, my clean energy business would have room to grow.”

Protecting the Clean Air Act

One of the policies already in place that will help small business owners like Crook and many others is the Clean Air Act. However, the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency, responsible for enforcing the Clean Air Act, still is coming under threat from some members of Congress who would limit the agency’s ability to do its job. Specifically, EPA is preparing to update clean air standards and reduce the amount of toxic pollution in the air that leads to increased health-related problems and fewer opportunities for small businesses. Nationwide, the new EPA standards would save as much as $100 billion a year once they are fully implemented.

Cleveland small business owner Stefanie Spear, who was part of the coalition that went to Washington to talk to representatives about the Clean Air Act, made the trek because policies such as the Clean Air Act have led to more money in her pocket. Spear’s company helps other businesses invest in solar and wind projects, so the more demand there is for clean energy, the more her services are needed. For her employees and herself, updating the Clean Air Act means an influx in business that may help her expand and create jobs. A delay of updated EPA standards, on the other hand, will stall the innovation and research that lead to job growth and new business opportunities.

Smart clean energy policies like the Clean Air Act and strong fuel efficiency standards that will provide Crook, Spear and countless others like them the opportunities to grow their businesses and put people back to work are exactly what we need right now to strengthen our economy. Policymakers should take a cue from small business owners and entrepreneurs when looking for ways to create jobs. Who better to take advice from than the real job creators who will rebuild our country?

John Arensmeyer is the founder and CEO of Small Business Majority. Arensmeyer has used his long experience as a business owner to build Small Business Majority into a nationally recognized small business organization and a leading advocate for critical public policy issues facing America’s entrepreneurs, particularly health care reform, clean energy, access to capital and job creation. The organization is focused on ensuring small businesses’ success as a way to rebuild the economy.

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