Advanced energy fuels jobs in Tennessee

Robert Houk • Aug 26, 2018 at 12:16 AM

Business leaders say advanced energy technology is the future of Tennessee. A recent report by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council said the cutting-edge technology associated with renewable energy sources will “enhance the state’s economic development, attract companies to locate and expand in-state and most importantly, create high-quality jobs for Tennesseans.”

Matt Kisber, a former state commissioner of economic and community development, is president of the council. He said the organization was created to advocate for advanced energy businesses like his own. Kisber is president and co-founder of Silicon Ranch Corp. which owns and operates solar power arrays across the United States.

Earlier this month, Kisber was at a groundbreaking for a 41,000-panel solar farm his company is building in partnership with BrightRidge and the Tennessee Valley Authority on 40 acres in Washington County.

“Renewable energy is one asset, but we are also talking about related technologies,” Kisber said last week. “What are businesses like FedEx doing to use renewables and reduce its carbon footprint? It’s as Fred Smith (the founder of the worldwide parcel delivery service based in Memphis) once told me, FedEx is really an information and technology company that delivers packages.”

Companies Leading The Way

Kisber said “Tennessee is blessed” to have companies like Federal Express, Nissan and Eastman Chemical leading the way on advanced energy technology.

“We also have smaller entrepreneurial companies and research facilities like the Oak National Laboratory that are making changes to the marketplace,” he said.

Those changes, Kisber said, are making “our lives better, our energy cheaper and our environment cleaner.”

Kisber said advanced energy economy goes beyond workers who deal directly with renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and biomass (gas trapped from the Iris Glen Environmental Center is an example of the latter). He said it is "technology neutral" and includes "technology that makes energy cleaner, safer, more secure and more efficient."

Where The Jobs Are

The Tennessee Advanced Energy Economic Impact Report said the state is seeing significant growth in new jobs created as a result of the advanced energy economy. Kisber said there are now 358,360 Tennesseans working in AE jobs.

The TAEBC report breaks down an analysis of where those jobs are located by metropolitan statistical areas.

The Nashville MSA, which is the largest population area in Tennessee and is where Kisber’s solar company is headquartered, was No. 1 on the list with 115,078 advanced energy jobs. That represents 13.5 percent of total employment for the Middle Tennessee region.

The Kingsport/Bristol MSA was second with 22,376 jobs in the advanced energy sector. The report cites the success of Eastman Chemical Co. and its development of a new polymer for use in 3D printing.

The report also said the Johnson City MSA (which includes Carter, Unicoi and Washington counties) has 7,185 advanced energy jobs. That’s 11 percent of the total employment in the MSA, and represents a payroll of $146 million.

 The report said One Scientific in Johnson City is a “clean tech company” in the region that "develops modular hydrogen solutions to help businesses to save money and enhance sustainability.”

Kisber said companies like One Scientific represent just one part of the overall picture when it comes to the advanced energy economy.

 “It is how that sustainable energy will be used that is more impactful,” he said. “The innovations are limitless.”

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