What about all those green jobs, Mr. President?
As part of Marketplace's coverage of President Barack Obama's address to Congress tonight, in which he unveiled a $447 billion plan to invest in jobs, journalism students from the University of Southern California interviewed Los Angeles-area business owners and business leaders for reaction.
Creating green jobs was a central plank in Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. Mark Smith believed his young firm was poised to ride a wave of expansion. Last year, the Solar Foundation, a trade association, predicted that the industry would add another 24,000 jobs in 2011, an increase of more than 25 percent.
But today, Smith's enthusiasm is on the wane. He's been able to grow his labor roll in recent years, but doesn't expect to take on any more new hires. He finds himself increasingly caught in a thicket of regulations. And he's disappointed that the green jobs theme didn't merit a mention in the President's speech.
Mark Smith, chief executive, Solar Forward, a provider of residential solar systems
LOCATION: Santa Monica, Calif.
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 6
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES IN 2008: 7
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES TODAY: 12 full-time, 2 part-time
HIRING THIS YEAR: "Probably not."
On what he's facing now:
"The biggest obstacles are the constantly shifting landscape when it comes to rebate incentives and building requirements. There's a never-ending plethora of obstacles. The rebates will change overnight without warning. "
On the President's speech:
"There is no central plan for solar. We need a centralized plan. I didn't hear anything in that speech that there is any direction. We do have a crumbling infrastructure, there's no doubt about it. But part of rebuilding an infrastructure that's old and tattered is dealing with energy needs. Our utility grid is old and tattered. Part of alleviating the load requirements for our existing grid is to create decentralized power [such as solar energy] and then you don't need the grid to distribute the power because the power is located locally...I just can't believe [green energy] wasn't addressed."
On what he needs going forward:
"There needs to be a federal mandate on how solar systems are allowed to hook up to the grid. Right now, every utility has a different requirement, every city has a different set of permitting guidelines for installing a solar system. There's no consistency nationwide. Every city has a different rebate program."
- Emily Frost