TAEBC guest column: Transportation electrification can recharge Tennessee’s economy

(Originally published in the Knoxville News Sentinel

By Cortney Piper, Executive Director of TAEBC

Tennessee unemployment lingers close to 10% as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to chew through livelihoods across the state. Likewise, millions of Americans are unemployed. The state has an opportunity in this economic downturn, however, to add jobs and make the state a leader in the advanced energy economy for transportation.

The energy sector, specifically transportation electrification, is the solution that Tennesseans should pursue. It would have statewide impact, and with the potential backing of federal funding, has the potential to launch the state into a new phase of manufacturing and job creation.

Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council supports stimulus proposal

The Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council recently signed on to the Transportation Electrification Partnership’s $150 billion federal stimulus proposal. The coalition of 50 cleantech organizations from 15 states recently sent a letter to Congress, requesting multi-billion-dollar federal investment in transportation electrification. That investment would create 2.3 million high-quality, advanced energy jobs across the country. The proposal’s recommended actions include:

  • $25 billion investment in building and adopting electric and zero-emissions vehicles along with supply-chain development (producing domestic lithium for batteries, etc.);
  •  $85 billion for electric vehicle charging and related infrastructure;
  • $25 billion for zero-emissions public transit, active transit and safe streets;
  • $12.5 billion for workforce development, safety standards and job training; and
  •   $2.5 billion in innovation ecosystems for cleantech startups and related small businesses, prioritizing those created by underrepresented founders.

This electrification proposal isn’t just about putting electric vehicles on the street. It’s about creating manufacturing jobs, as $25 billion would boost the electric vehicle supply chain. Facilities such as Denso in Maryville have become regional leaders in employment because of their role in the automotive supply chain.

A boost for community and technical colleges

Of the $150 billion in the proposal, $12.5 billion is dedicated to workforce development and job training. Think of the expansion that could provide for community and technical colleges across the state as we build a workforce of smart people with the technical know-how to remain competitive for new potential employers. Another $2.5 billion would go toward fostering an advanced-energy entrepreneurial ecosystem. That’s money directly going to small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Transportation electrification falls under the advanced energy sector – anything making energy cleaner, safer, more secure or more efficient. At our core, TAEBC champions advanced energy as a job creation and economic development strategy. In our 2018 Tennessee Advanced Energy Economic Impact Report, we found that advanced energy contributes $39.7 billion to state gross domestic product and employs nearly 360,000 Tennesseans.

It’s simple: The advanced energy sector creates high-quality jobs, fuels growth for existing businesses and attracts new corporate investment in the state. It’s already happening. Volkswagen is opening a new $800 million electric vehicle production site. Facebook has a new $800 million data center near Nashville that will be powered by two new solar energy projects. Advanced energy will continue to recharge our economy and accelerate growth during this challenging time.

Tennessee is uniquely positioned to capitalize on transportation electrification thanks to the hard work of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and previous governors Phil Bredesen and Bill Haslam, who diligently put our current advanced energy infrastructure and assets in place. Just last year, Bob Rolfe, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner, reinforced our state’s goal of becoming the top electric vehicle producer in the country.

The state is ready to lead the country in transportation electrification. In fact, work in electrification is a key part of Tennessee’s history in America. In 1933, the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority brought jobs and helped Tennesseans pull through the worst of the Great Depression. Today, the transportation electrification efforts outlined in this proposal could and should be used as job creation and economic development opportunities to help us rise out of our current crisis.

TAEBC, LACI webinar highlights transportation electrification as a job creation and economic development opportunity

On August 12, the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council hosted a webinar featuring the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI). During the event, panelists discussed the status of a $150 billion federal stimulus proposal to strengthen our nation’s transportation infrastructure and what it could mean for Tennessee.

webinar screenshotAlongside 50 other cleantech companies, organizations and government entities, TAEBC signed on to this proposal in July to once again look to the advanced energy sector for economic recovery. The webinar highlighted what this kind of investment could mean for Tennessee as state leaders eye Tennessee becoming the top spot for the country’s EV supply chain and implement statewide electrification plans.

Featured speakers included Michael Swords, VP of Government Affairs & International Relations at LACI; Michelle Kinman, Director of Transportation at LACI; and Cortney Piper, TAEBC’s Executive Director. Piper opened the webinar, telling attendees that the proposal aligns with TAEBC’s belief that transportation electrification can be used as a job creation and economic development opportunity.

Swords and Kincman spoke about LACI’s commitment to “building an inclusive green economy” and discussed the recommended actions included in the proposal. These recommendations include:

  • $25 billion for zero emissions vehicle manufacturing, assembly and adoption
  • $85 billion for zero emissions infrastructure investment
  • $25 billion for zero emissions public and active transit
  • $12.5 billion for workforce development and job training
  • $2.5 billion for innovation ecosystem, cleantech startups and related small businesses

webinar screenshot

Kinman said the proposal has gained significant traction over the past few months and called it a “nationwide effort” to ensure the country is “putting Americans back to work in ways that will advance the clean energy goals.” 

Regarding next steps, Swords said that LACI is working closely with organizations in Washington D.C. and having nearly daily conversations with legislators or their staff to gain traction on the recommended actions. 

“There is growing bipartisan support for some of the ideas we have outlined in the proposal,” Swords said. “We’re confident that we’re going to get some movement on some of the items.” 

Loved the webinar and want to view the presentation again? Download it here.