What's Working
5:35 pm
Tue June 22, 2010

Wind Power at the JVS

The Dayton area has lost almost 40,000 manufacturing jobs in the last decade. Across the Miami Valley, people are going back to school to train for that they hope will be a wave of new, green jobs. In Piqua enrollment at the Upper Valley Joint Vocational School has doubled in the last year - in part because of an innovative new program at the school's adult division. It's called Alternative Energy and Green Systems Management, and it's the first program of its kind in the state.

When the winds are calm, you can see each individual blade as it turns. The wind turbine at Upper Valley JVS is like a futuristic version of the wind mill on your grandfather's farm, except this one's in a parking lot. The turbine supplies power to classrooms and gives hands-on experience to the students inside. They're studying wind power.

"I decided I wasn't ready to give up and retire. So, I just decided I was gonna start another career and this is where I was gonna start," says Gary Williams.

Williams lost his job in the automotive industry over a year ago. Now he's a student in what has become the most popular program the JVS offers. Williams says there's a lot to learn, but he's hopeful.

"There's a lot of things happening in Ohio. We've seen companies that've been around a long time starting to look at alternative energy and so they're starting to learn and they're starting to grow, I see a lot of growth. It's exciting, it really is," says Williams.

"Today's green jobs are yesterday's regular jobs"

"We're providing a workforce that is transitional," says Art Bower. He coordinates the adult programs at the JVS. The students here are training for jobs like energy auditing, installing solar panels in homes or maintaining big wind farms.

But that's just the beginning. Bowser says there's no reason the Miami Valley can't actually manufacture things like wind turbines and solar cells as well.

"If you can build a car transmission you can build a wind turbine transmission just as easily. That's what we mean when we say, well, today's green jobs are yesterday's regular jobs, we just have a new mindset when we do it," says Bowser.

"Our workforce is fantastic for this"

Local business owner Ray Davis agrees. He's the president of Ohio Green Wind, a turbine distributor.

"Our workforce is fantastic for this," says Davis.

Davis sold the JVS their wind turbine. Right now he's showing me around his new warehouse space in Tipp City. It used to be a tool and die shop, just like hundreds in the Miami Valley where traditional machine parts were made. Now it's filling up with turbine parts in giant wooden crates.

When Davis opens one of the crates, it's like looking under the hood of a car - a really big car. The engine inside is what's called the turbine head. This one will likely go atop a tower at a local elementary school.

As a salesman, Davis is in touch with manufacturers every day. Most of them are overseas.

"I would like to see more manufactures take a harder look at Ohio. Because I think we have the resources and employees that would fit the bill for just about any particular turbine," says Davis.

Miami County is working to attract those manufacturers.

"The number one stumbling block is figuring out if we're going to have a federal renewable energy standard that helps us realize this market. Without that commitment I'm not sure this market is ever going to fully materialize," says Bill Murphy, Piqua's economic development director.

"It appears that the future is very good"

It's Murphy's job to look at the long-term, but back at the JVS, things are moving forward. Program Coordinator Art Bowser says he thinks job prospects are good, but you can't build a new industry overnight.

"It appears that the future is very good and will only continue to get better over the next well, many years . Probably at least 20 years as this new industry evolves. And we're gonna see some good times for Ohio, at least that's what we believe," says Bowser

The current group of students will graduate in December. Charlotte Weaver is among them. She hopes to land a job as an energy auditor. Weaver was laid off from her job in a machine shop after twelve years.

"It's gonna take a long time for everybody to get back to work, and hopefully some of us'll get those green jobs," says Weaver.