Creating Jobs by Investing in Our Future
When Scott County partnered with Honeywell to upgrade insulation, lighting, windows and energy-management systems in six government buildings, everybody won.
The construction and manufacturing sectors got a boost. Building-trades workers and companies -- hit hardest by the recession -- were put back on the job. And Scott County taxpayers are now saving more than $185,000 a year in energy costs.
What's more, the county sent an important signal to the business community: we are investing in our future and putting people back to work. That's what retrofitting is all about. Making our buildings more energy-efficient saves money, creates jobs, improves real-estate values, strengthens our infrastructure -- and could be the next big thing for Minnesota's economy. Our state is positioned particularly well to benefit from retrofitting, with energy-service companies, leading window makers and other manufacturers headquartered right here in our state.
Unfortunately, financial and regulatory obstacles have made it hard for many governments and businesses to launch retrofitting projects of their own. Budgets are tight in both the public and private sectors, and many building owners have trouble finding capital for even a safe and smart investment like retrofitting. And lenders, new to the idea, are just now figuring out how to finance such projects.
But retrofitting is too good a deal to pass up. That's why I've launched "Back to Work Minnesota," my initiative to create jobs through retrofitting. Local officials don't have to hope that an investment in retrofitting pays off; they can look to success stories from around the country and know that they'll make that money back and more while giving the economy a boost and creating jobs. With Back to Work Minnesota, I am working with leaders around the state and across the country to help Minnesota communities take advantage of the benefits of energy efficiency retrofits.
I'm excited that local and state government leaders here in Minnesota are at the forefront of attacking obstacles to retrofitting. Gov. Mark Dayton has mandated increased energy efficiency in government buildings and is streamlining the process. Our Conservation Improvement Program, which sets aggressive energy-savings goals for utilities across the state, has also helped to kick-start demand.
And many cities across Minnesota have retrofitted their public buildings. But nationally, we're leaving some $80 billion on the table in potential work that could be done in municipal, school, university and hospital buildings.
Getting retrofitting projects off the ground has proven more difficult for the private sector. Unlike municipalities, companies don't always own their own buildings, and when they do, they buy and sell them more frequently than governments do public buildings. Meanwhile, many commercial projects are small enough that they get overlooked by lenders, making it difficult to find financing.
We have all the ingredients to make Minnesota the leader in retrofitting: energy-service companies to guarantee savings, manufacturers to make energy-efficient products, workers ready to install them, lenders who could provide the financing, building owners eager to get these energy savings, and leaders in both the public and private sectors who understand what a big win this would be for our state.
Now we have to bring these stakeholders together to help them overcome the obstacles, get these projects up and running, and give our economy this critical boost.
In October, I organized a meeting with leaders from Minnesota and across the country to kick off "Back to Work Minnesota." Since then, I've been traveling around Minnesota, meeting with communities and businesses that are launching retrofit programs to create jobs and save money. These include Grandview Tire and Auto in Edina, which took advantage of Edina's new PACE public funding option to install solar panels on its roof, reducing energy costs and putting Minnesotans to work. Royalton, a small town north of St. Cloud, is another great example of a Minnesota retrofit leader. They are working with a local manufacturer to install solar panels on the roof of City Hall, saving the city thousands of dollars in energy costs and putting money back into the local economy. And just last week, I met with community leaders and business owners in the City of Eagan, which retrofitted its Civic Arena and one of its fire stations. These projects are just the beginning of the wave of interest in retrofitting that is sweeping across Minnesota.
Right now, many communities face challenges in finding financing for projects like these, but the success stories of businesses and communities all over Minnesota speak for themselves. I'm offering my support to Minnesota companies and civic leaders to help knock down barriers to retrofitting and, if needed, to work toward federal legislation that will unlock its potential for our state.
Each city, county, business, and university that invests in a retrofitting project adds new momentum to this growing movement, making it easier for others to follow in its footsteps. It's time to get started.