The “green” in Greensburg continues to keep the community at the national forefront of sustainable building, living and thinking.
And that position brings with it perks — such as the community finding itself smack dab in the middle of a genuine bright spot in the gloom and doom that is the U.S. economy.
Despite the U.S. recession, the green industry continues to grow and is on its way to becoming the nation’s fastest-growing job segment.
Greensburg, by being recognized as a model green community across the country and even the world, is uniquely positioned to grab a piece of that job pie. However, that piece could be much larger if there were more incentives available to draw green industry to Kansas.
An October report prepared for the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Mayors Climate Protection Center predicted that green jobs would account for nearly 10 percent of new jobs over the next two decades.
In 2006, the United States gained 750,000 green jobs and is expected to add millions more over the next several decades, the report said. By 2038, renewable energy production will create 1.2 million jobs while alternative transportation fuels will create 1.5 million jobs.
The engineering, legal, research and consulting positions needed to make those green initiatives possible will account for more than 1.4 million jobs, the report said.
Where will those jobs be? The report predicts mostly large cities, with New York, Washington, D.C., Houston, Los Angeles and Boston rounding out the top five metropolitan areas for current and potential green jobs.
Small town, big plans
But Greensburg is also vying for that industry and has succeeded on a couple of fronts. Greensburg already has some green jobs in the bag. Torsten Energy has plans to build a biodiesel plant in Greensburg, adding 20 to 25 jobs.
The city also is in discussions with California-based Extreme Homes, a sustainable home manufacturing company that would add another 50 to 100 green jobs to the Greensburg economy.
And, of course, Greensburg already has a few green jobs in terms of the people who work for Greensburg GreenTown, a nonprofit organization established to provide resources, information and support to rebuild Greensburg as a model green community after the May 2007 tornado.
Greensburg’s commitment to being a model green community is the draw for these companies, said Daniel Wallach, executive director of Greensburg GreenTown.
“That kind of identity and branding brings real value to businesses that also want to be seen that way,” he said. “There is a great awareness of Greensburg among businesses — so we’re well-positioned that way.”
Greensburg has set itself apart through momentous decisions, such as powering the city with only renewable energy and constructing all city buildings to LEED platinum standards, the highest level of certification available for green buildings.
“One great advantage we have is the scale of the town. In Greensburg it is easier to demonstrate green concepts,” Wallach said, citing the city’s decision to use 100 percent renewable energy and the fact that Greensburg will have the highest concentration of LEED certified buildings in the world. “No one else can say that.
“These are initiatives that would take bigger cities huge amounts of resources and time to ramp up and to do.”
Shades of green
Greensburg also is showing that its true colors are of a green hue by creating and following a sustainable master plan for rebuilding the community and adopting a Main Street streetscape that recycles water, includes native plantings and is otherwise sensitive to the environment.
The town continues to focus on new horizons — and currently is drafting a set of “very progressive” building codes with the assistance of the National Renewable Energy Lab, Wallach said.
“Businesses from outside of the community can look at our town and see that we are taking this very seriously,” Wallach said. “And if being green is a big part of that business’ identity, they feel secure knowing that there will be support for that in this community and want to be a part of it.”
Despite Greensburg’s unarguable standout position, there are some things the resilient western Kansas town lacks — namely, a different kind of green.
“We have the edge in a number of ways, but when it comes to financial incentives and support, we could definitely use some help,” Wallach said. “It is hard to compete at a fiscal level.”