Dispatches from VA Greenforce Summit: Former DNC Chair McAuliffe Drives Home ‘No One Size Fits All’ Message

Within minutes of the kickoff of the Greenforce Summit in Culpeper, VA, today, Julian Keniry, NWF’s senior director for Campus and Community Leadership, mentioned arguably the most job-oriented icon of them all: hard hats. Namely, the green variety, worn by youth activists at Power Shift events since the launch of that program in 2007.

(Back then, Keniry said, the youth activists crowding the Mall couldn’t have imagined that Senator Barack Obama would become a president with a major green jobs mandate, or that it would be, along with a commitment to waste less and conserve natural resources, a point of relative consensus among young Americans.)

The Chevy Volt: what about green car opportunities?

Just as we all have a quick, word-association-style reaction when we think of jobs and the rigors of 9-to-5 life (hard work? hard hats!), I, like most people, have a pretty well-defined image of how GREEN jobs ‘look’: wind turbines, solar panels, weatherized windows, et al.—heck, take a look at the photos I’ve included with my last few blog posts.

Somehow, amid the breeze, sun, and construction workers, I sometimes forget about the automotive sector. That is, until a guy like Terry McAuliffe forces the issue.

(This nicely reiterated Kevin Coyle‘s remarks earlier in the day—that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to green jobs: hey, just think how different Thursday’s Michigan Greenforce Summit will look than what we saw here today.)

McAuliffe, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and Virginia gubernatorial candidate, was here to tout the environment-friendly and energy-efficient car company he currently chairs, GreenTech Automotive, and talk about the broader green opportunities in the region.

Before jetting off to Geneva, the ever-charismatic Clinton confidante took some time to speak bluntly about the possibilities for auto manufacturing. To wit: “Virginia oughta be the world leader on this.” He went on to emphasize the need for local government to create a hospitable environment for green industry, including measures to encourage capital investment. Bottom line: “If we’re not gonna create jobs of the future…they’re gonna go elsewhere.”

What about the other side of the industrial waltz? McAuliffe was quick to say that a larger, more skilled green-trained workforce is needed in Virginia, especially if the state wants to attract hybrid auto assembly facilities like the one he recently agreed to build in Mississippi. Soon after, a discussion among Virginia community college representatives broke out mid-session about the possibilities of training modules for future technicians and other automotive-centric workers in the area.

David Zenlea, assistant editor at Automobile Magazine, knows a lot about cars (odd, huh?), so I phoned him in Detroit to ask about the employment possibilities GreenTech and other companies like it might offer.

Zenlea acknowledged that GreenTech is one of many recent green car start-ups, but that doesn’t necessarily make it unlikely to warm the tough economic climes of the moment:

“The employment involved is large…any start-up like this is potentially a huge jobs engine.”

Mind you, these jobs would require many different levels of training and qualification—McAuliffe himself admitted a theoretical Virginia plant would require most employees to have some kind of post-high-school degree. That, yet again, is where the community colleges touting their job training programs today come in: they remain the premier vocation training and education providers in the country, and corporate movers can’t change the world without them.

Stay tuned for more from today’s Greenforce Summit on NWF’s blogs and media center tomorrow.