Green in Minnesota
Because Minnesota is unique, its green economy is also unique.
The types of green jobs that are common in one state or region may not be common in another. Minnesota's green sector has been shaped by its unique blend of abundant farmland, natural resources, and extreme temperatures.
Farmland and Corn
Minnesota has 27 million acres of farmland, over one-third of which are used to grow corn. In fact, Minnesota produces over nine percent of all the corn grown in the United States. While corn is most commonly used for human and animal food, it can also be used as a raw material for biobased products such as ethanol and plastic. Twenty-two ethanol plants in rural Minnesota produced 1,119 million gallons of ethanol in 2010, right near the source of the raw material. This industry provides jobs in production, transportation, and management.
Have you come across compostable plastic yet? Much of it is made of corn and, in the future, may be produced here in Minnesota. Minnesota already has a vibrant plastics industry cluster and now a few new companies are working to perfect corn-based plastics. These plastics would have strength and durability, and be able to withstand extreme temperature changes, allowing them to effectively compete with petroleum-based plastics. Some will likely be made from corn cobs instead of kernels. This is more sustainable, since it doesn't require taking large quantities of corn out of the food chain. One key reason these startups are located in Minnesota is the proximity to the necessary raw material — corn.
Wind is another resource that has helped shape our green jobs sector. Minnesota is the 11th windiest state in the country, and now ranks fourth nationally in installed wind power generation capacity. Because of this natural resource, the state has added many jobs in wind power. But it isn't just the presence of wind that has fostered job growth. The state's renewable energy mandate requires 25 percent of our electricity to come from renewable sources like wind and solar power by 2025. This has helped to move the wind industry forward.
Minnesota's abundant farmland provides the physical space for wind turbines, which generate electricity to power homes and businesses. Wind turbines are most often located on farms for several reasons.
- Turbines don't interfere with farming, but they can be noisy when the wind is blowing. This can be undesirable in urban areas.
- The wide open farmland allows the wind to blow unobstructed.
- Farmers can earn extra money by leasing out land for the turbines or building their own.
There are many wind turbine technicians in Minnesota, but the wind industry generates plenty of other jobs in the engineering, production, construction, and utilities sectors.
Water, Prairie, and Forest
With well over 10,000 lakes, almost everyone who lives in Minnesota has a connection to at least one of them. This might be one reason we, as a state, devote resources to protecting them and our rivers and streams, forest and prairie, and the wildlife that inhabit them. The resources that we are willing to devote create jobs in the administration of conservation programs. These jobs range from management to landscaping and maintenance to park rangers and other parks and recreation staff to scientific and research positions.
Minnesota's exceptionally cold winters have led to economic development in energy-saving construction supplies. Did you know that Minnesota has a world-renowned window and door industry? And if you think windows and doors are boring, think again. Important new technologies like electrochromic windows that let in more or less light depending on environmental conditions are being developed right here in Minnesota. This cluster provides jobs primarily in production as well as engineering and marketing.
Temperature extremes have also helped establish Minnesota as home to an HVAC and automatic environmental controls industry cluster. Companies in this cluster work to make the heating and cooling systems in large commercial and public buildings as well as homes as efficient as possible. This cluster provides jobs in architecture and engineering, HVAC installation and repair, and production.