Green jobs in Tennessee grew by 8 percent in 2010, far faster than the 1.2 percent average job growth rate statewide, according to a state report on alternative energy and other environmentally friendly businesses.
More than 6,000 so-called green businesses employed 43,800 workers last year and businesses in the survey said they plan to add 3,645 additional workers in 2011, according to Tennessee's Green Jobs Report.
In a study conducted by Middle Tennessee State University for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, economists said the most active green sectors were construction and manufacturing, with about a fifth of all jobs in those sectors identified as environmentally friendly. About 13 percent of all workers in the transportation and professional technical services sectors were also working on green projects, according to the jobs report.
"These jobs include engineers, energy brokers, solar installation managers and logistics engineers and analysts," said Murat Arik, associate director for the study group at Middle Tennessee State University.
The study used federal labor definitions of green jobs and included businesses working on energy efficiency, renewable energy, environmentally friendly construction, sustainable transportation, pollution cleanup and recycling, among others.
Chattanooga-area companies played an especially significant role in green job creation, with both the solar pane equipment maker, Wacker Chemical in Charleston, and the environmentally sensitive auto plant by the Volkswagen of America included among the top six companies studied.
Those six industries together have added about 10,000 overall construction jobs, and about 17,000 manufacturing jobs in Tennessee.
Jeff Zirenberg, Wacker's manager of human resources, said green jobs aren't just good for publicity, but have legitimate business advantages, too.
"It's going to bring notice to our area for other industries to find a home here and research this area," Zirenberg said.
Though a certain portion of the green economy has been sustained by government funding that is quickly running out, Zirenberg is confident that the state's green workforce isn't going anywhere.
"I'm confident that whether it's Wacker or anyone else who is in this type of discussion with our state and local folks, they're going to come to a mutual agreement about what's the best benefit for both parties," he said. "It's good for the state, and it's good for our area. I'm confident that our state and area is going to continue to help us invest in that."
Chattanooga is enjoying the spotlight for its green business initiatives, said Richard Beeland, spokesman for Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield. Chattanooga's Greenspaces initiative has helped promote a Better Built green home standard and encouraged more LEED-certified commercial buildings.
"At one time we were a community that frowned upon talking about environmental sustainability, now it seems we're thriving on it," Beeland said.