Cover Story: Charlotte leads green jobs

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - While much of the news has been about companies cutting jobs there is an area of the local economy that is growing jobs.  Just think -- anything green.  A new study shows North Carolina is in the top 10 of states growing "green jobs."  PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson reports in our Cover Story.

Just like the banks helped lure a huge financial services sector here Charlotte-based Duke Energy is helping transform the area into an energy sector.  And many are betting it's an area of the economy that's going to take off.

Charlotte's not the place you'd think of when you think of "solar power."

But in a huge warehouse on the city's west side.. at a company called "Sencera" they're building the next generation of solar panels.

Joel Olsen.. director of business development showed us around.

The start-up company uses ordinary glass you'd see in a car and in these high-tech machines lays films of plasma on the glass to make thin film silicon solar panels..

Extremely unique in the industry.. but uses the same technology.. the same type of solar module that you see in a solar calculator.

"We know that the state or the country that really gets this right in terms of renewable energy manufacturing is really going to lead a lot of the economic indicators going forward," says Olsen.

Sencera did the r & d here .. and will begin making the panels here later this year.

It plans to employ nearly 70.

Sencera is a poster child of the companies Charlotte leaders want to go after.

"Green jobs" an industry.. the Pew Center study.. "the Clean Energy Economy" predicts will take off in the next century.

Gov. Perdue's voiced as much in speech here last April.

"Let me be straight with you," she said.  "Green is gold. Green is gold in North Carolina and in America and I believe and I'll say it again, the state that gets green right in America will own the next fifty years of this century."

But it's not strictly limited to "green".. says Jeff Edge, senior vice president of economic development at the Charlotte Chamber.

The city's positioning itself to be a major player in the nuclear industry as well.. attracted by Duke Energy's presence here.

"Everybody's wanting to come here because that's where the talent's going to be."

Within the last year, Charlotte's attracted these companies.  Some expanded operations.. others have set up shop.

Leaders want Charlotte to become the center of an energy cluster.

"People are going to need power.. going to need energy for a variety of uses. And we think something that the growth potential will continue to be very large," says Edge.

Two years ago North Carolina enacted a law that requires utilities to get some of their power from alternative energy sources.. like solar.

That's encouraged the growth of solar here.. there's now a demand.

Give you an idea of how large the industry can become.. the Charlotte Regional Partnership has identified more than 100 business that could serve as a supply chain for the solar industry.. those companies employ more tha 5-thousand people in region.