Van Jones Challenges Philadelphia to Create Country’s First Green Enterprise Zone

By By Leanne Krueger-Braneky, Executive Director of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia
Philadelphia Business Journal, December 31, 1969

On February 21st, Van Jones delivered a rousing address to a sold-out crowd at the Academy of Natural Sciences. He was invited to Philadelphia to talk about the green-collar job training program he launched in Oakland and to offer advice on how our region could create a similar initiative.

Oakland faces many of the same problems that Philadelphia grapples with: job loss, struggling schools, high juvenile crime rates, high murder rates and lack of economic opportunity for young people.

After years of working to keep Oakland's youth out of prison, Mr. Jones learned that combating climate change would require millions of dollars of investment in clean energy and weatherization. Someone would have to put up those solar panels and he wondered if it would be possible to œconnect the people who most need work with the work that most needs to be done and fight pollution and poverty at the same time. He went on to create Oakland's Green Jobs Corps program with $250,000 in seed funding from the City of Oakland and has become a national advocate for this work.

Van Jones recommended three action steps that Philadelphia should take to move a green-collar job development strategy forward in this region.

First, local procurement policies are key to our success. If the City commits to retrofit old buildings or install solar panels, it should follow Chicago's lead on procurement policies that favor local production. By setting goals to buy materials that are locally fabricated, we can build new industries around the fabrication of green building materials.

Second, we need to connect existing green business leaders with workforce development agencies and local community colleges so that the schools can train students to fill existing and emerging job needs.

Third, we should œbeat Oakland to create the country's first Green Enterprise Zone, capitalizing on existing Enterprise Zone legislation to create a new class of green businesses that employ low-income workers.

By taking these steps, we can simultaneously revitalize our local economy and create opportunities to lift people out of poverty.