Building on Iowa's strengths in wind power and solar energy can maximize job growth and give the state a competitive economic edge. That's according to the Iowa Jobs Project, a new report created in partnership with the University of Iowa and led by the American Jobs Project.

The report recommends innovative strategies to support job creation by capitalizing on growing market opportunities and aligning manufacturing with critical economic system components, including access to capital, innovation ecosystems and workforce development.

"For Iowa, this approach could employ an average of almost 18,000 people annually in the wind and solar energy industries over the next 15 years," said Kate Ringness, program manager for the American Jobs Project.

The wind energy industry in Iowa currently employs 6,000 to 7,000 in all wind-related employment, according to the Iowa Wind Energy Association, which places the state third in in the nation in wind employment. Iowa's solar power companies employ 726 advanced energy workers, according to a 2014 advanced energy survey.

The report is funded by the JPB Foundation, the Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute and the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society. The American Jobs Project website, which launched this month, features reports on Iowa and nine other states, as well as a Policy Bank detailing best practices and innovative ideas for advanced energy job growth.

"Our research shows that smart policies and a focus on industrial clusters can allow states to become hubs of innovation and job creation in advanced energy industries that dovetail with a state's own strengths," Ringness said.

The Iowa Jobs Project finds that:
  • In recent years, Iowa spent more than $590 million annually to import fuel to the state. Iowa can keep this money in-state and expand the economy by developing advanced energy industries.
  • Iowa's wind industry is an ideal mechanism for job growth because of its strong foundation of original equipment manufacturers, skilled labor base, well-established research institutions and extensive untapped wind resources that could generate electricity for export.
  • Iowa's wind industry has the opportunity to employ an average of more than 10,000 Iowans annually over the next 15 years.
  • If harnessed, rooftop solar panels alone could account for 20 percent of Iowa's electricity needs. Demand for rooftop solar is increasing in Iowa as a result of favorable policy conditions and the availability of Solar Renewable Energy Credits, which create a market ripe for growth.
  • The solar industry in Iowa could employ an average of more than 7,700 Iowans annually over the next 15 years.
"By taking a comprehensive look at the opportunities available in Iowa for creating high-tech jobs that pay well, this report provides a road map for government, industry, suppliers and workforce development educators," said Jerald Schnoor, Allen S. Henry Chair in Engineering at the University of Iowa. "Most important for me is the emphasis on solar technologies as the missing piece of the puzzle for Iowa to continue its nationwide leadership in renewable energy resources."
 
In a separate report, the U.S. Census Bureau charted the number of American workers who actually are employed by solar generation facilities and found there are fewer than 1,600 nationwide. In a state-by-state comparison, the graphic below shows that fewer than 20 Iowans work for a solar generation plant, compared with 250 to 499 workers in California.