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How a Georgia program from the 60s catalyzed its modern and future clean energy workforce

goergia park in fall overlayed with illustrations of ev engines, bar graph going up, and a construction worker
Settles Bridge Park, Georgia, USA. Image Credit: Timothy Dachraoui // Unsplash. Illustrations by Nate Merrit. Graphic by Miquéla Thornton

Georgia is called the Peach State for a reason — it has the nation’s best. However, in the 1960s, Georgia wanted to diversify its economy from farming peaches and other crops to attract manufacturers from the North-to-Midwest Rust Belt. Think Detroit’s once-burgeoning auto empire, West Virginia’s coal industry, and the steel mills that dotted Chicago, New York City, Cleaveland, and Gary.

In the mid-century, the United States was synonymous with coal plants, steel, and automotive production, and as Georgia wanted to step into the latter half of the 20th century, in 1967, it launched Quick Start: a workforce development program initially part of the Department of Education that aimed to siphon a workforce familiar with the season-dependent sunup-to-sundown labor of farm life to a factory nine-to-five.

Now, as the U.S. and other countries steer their workforce toward a battle against the climate crisis, Quick Start has played an integral role in catalyzing the Peach State’s clean energy workforce and pumping clean energy manufacturing investment into Georgia.

What started as a means to attract the Rust Belt investment is now becoming the Battery Belt.

As the energy transition publication Canary Media reports, Georgian insiders say Quick Start is a (work)force to be reckoned with, and is a major reason why the state has successfully wooed billions in clean tech investment.

When you think of the regions leading the clean energy revolution, your mind may draw a map from Silicon Valley to Wall Street, but behind the electric vehicle, battery, solar panel, and turbine insurgence supercharging the energy transition is a fleet of manufacturing jobs across the country, especially in the South.

person working a manufacturing job
Image Credit: mostafa mahmoudi // Unsplash

While climate mitigation may not be a political driving force for Georgia’s lawmakers, as NPR reports, the EV boom, clean energy jobs, and investment from the top clean tech producers are helping to drive the clean energy transition.

Previously, Quick Start drove Ford Motor Company and a string of large aircraft corporations like Boeing and Gulfstream Aerospace to Georgia in the 80s and made the state the epicenter of the carpet industry from the 60s to the 90s. Thanks to Quick Start training carpet makers, Dalton, Georgia now produces 90% of the world’s wall-to-wall carpet. With a humungous clean energy investment trend in recent years, Georgia is positioning itself as a hub for EV and solar panel manufacturing.

On the EV side, two notable recent investments include Rivian’s “generational” $5 billion investment in its Georgia EV plant and its need for 7,500 workers and Hyundai’s $5.5 billion investment in an EV and battery plant and its need for 8,100 employees.

According to Rodger Brown, executive director of Quick Start, via Canary Media, Quick Start plans to train about 300 to 400 new Hyundai hires a week at its new facility, one of three it’s designing specifically for clean energy manufacturers and suppliers.

Quick Start already has five facilities, but with Hyundai’s plant slated to open and bring in the new year in 2025, the program is moving fast to create its $70 million facility just for training Hyundai workers.

The jobs clean energy is bringing to Georgia don’t end at EVs.

In April, a Georgia plant received the biggest single investment U.S. community solar power ever, with Summit Ridge Energy, the largest U.S.-based solar energy company, buying 2.5 million solar panels from Korean solar panel manufacturer Qcells, which in January announced its plan to invest $2.5 billion to expand its operations and build its own solar panel supply chain.

Qcells dominates the solar industry, and thanks to incentives by the Inflation Reduction Act, it's eying America for its supply chain, and thanks to Quick Start, its eyes are on Georgia, with plans to create 2,500 jobs from Dalton and Cartersville.

As Canary reports, the fact that Georgia is a right-to-work state that, in turn, weakens labor unions from garnering necessary worker protections, is likely also a reason so many manufacturers are coming, but Quick Start’s keen workforce development is truly what’s moving the needle.

These federal incentives have so far, sparked a $12 billion clean energy boom in Georgia, led by EV manufacturing. Between now and 2030, the Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that the just clean energy generation and storage will also funnel $180 million into the state.

Despite the political agenda of Georgia’s leaders like Governor Brian Kemp, who wants to make the state the "electric mobility capital of America" despite being against the climate bill that became the IRA, the DOE shows the correlation between private and federal clean energy investment in Georgia, with clean energy adoption.

Georgia’s biggest urban centers, Atlanta and Athens, both have ambitious citywide clean energy goals. In Atlanta, plans are being developed to reach 100% clean energy by 2035; and already 57% of the electric power generation workforce is in wind, solar, and hydroelectric.

In Athens, the city has committed to running on 100% clean electricity by 2035 and economy-wide clean energy by 2050.

On top of city-level plans, because of the lower costs associated with domestic and, for Georgia, local manufacturing, the IRA is expected to lower solar and wind generation costs by 22% and 34%, respectively, over the next 30 years in Georgia.

With growing solar and wind capacity and EV adoption in the state, coupled with the 194,908 Georgians employed by the clean energy sector as of 2021, the economic gains and climate mitigation and adaption gains of Georgia emerging as a clean energy hub are inextricably linked. Thanks to programs like Quick Start, the stamina behind Georgia’s clean energy workforce development won’t be slowing down anytime soon.


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