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Clean energy jobs growing in Asheville area

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10/19/2011 - Clean energy jobs growing in Asheville area
by Dale Neal - Asheville Citizen Times

ASHEVILLE -- Clean energy has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dark economic time for Western North Carolina with employment growing 4.9 percent in solar companies, green building and energy efficiency jobs in the past five years, compared with a 7.9 percent decline in the regional economy overall.

Western North Carolina boasts the highest concentration of clean energy companies per capita in the state as well as the most power generated from solar, wind, geothermal, and other renewable energy sources.

"We can't be afraid to say that we are the king of the hill in a number of categories," said Ron Townley of Land-of-Sky Regional Council.

But the region must do a better job of promoting its assets to keep a competitive advantage in clean energy, according to an economic analysis unveiled Monday before entrepreneurs and civic leaders at Diana Wortham Theatre in downtown Asheville.

The event hosted by Land-of-Sky Regional Council and AdvantageWest unveiled the EvolveEnergy Partnership, a campaign to brand Western North Carolina as a business destination for alternative energy, energy efficiency and green building.

"We have a choice in clean energy," said Michael Shore, CEO of the fast-growing FLS Energy firm in Asheville. "We can bemoan the lack of activity in Washington with the failure to create jobs and to level the playing field between clean energy and fossil fuels, or we can take the issue into our own hands here in Western North Carolina."

WNC could take lessons from Texas in bragging, said Angelos Angelou, an economist from Austin who surveyed some 200 local leaders for a 200-page report on the region's assets in clean energy. "I've never met so many entrepreneurs in a region so small," Angelou said.

But many of those he called "lifestyle entrepreneurs" who seemed uninterested in growing their companies beyond a local market to compete nationally and internationally.

The region also needs many more trained engineers to keep its advantage, Angelou said. Too many students finish their training outside the region and find work there, instead of returning with their talents to the mountains.

Angelou's report covered not just the 23 counties of Advantage West, but extended into 31 counties including Forsyth and Davie counties to the east, part of the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Townley called Angelou's massive report a bargain at $50,000 since Angelou is regarded as one of the world's top analysts in clean energy. Over the past five years, Land-of-Sky and AdvantageWest have spent some $500,000 to document the region's clean energy sector and find ways to promote more jobs in the industry.

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