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Jobs are growing in green industries

With the green movement influencing many aspects of daily life, colleges and companies in southeastern Minnesota also are adapting in high-tech ways.

Beyond efforts to conserve energy and reduce waste, colleges in the state have created new programs to train students for green jobs and industries are responding to a demand for more environmentally friendly products with innovative technology.

At Riverland Community College, which has campuses in Austin and Albert Lea and a training center in Owatonna, two technical education programs are now offered in the field of renewable energy.

The college started a two-year program in September for students to become wind turbine technicians. It easily reached its maximum enrollment of 26 students and has 65 people on a waiting list for next fall. In January, Riverland began offering a solar installer certificate, a one-semester course to train electricians and others interested in the career how to install photovoltaic systems.

There is tremendous job growth potential in the wind and solar industries, which are creating good-paying jobs for skilled workers, said Steve Vietor, an instructor at Riverland for 18 years. He teaches classes in the electrical, wind turbine technician and solar installer certificate programs.


"So many times in our life, we meet somebody who fell into an incredible opportunity," Vietor said. "Right now, that’s where I feel green technology is… We’re on a wave that hasn’t peaked yet and people need to think about riding this one in."

While on sabbatical from the college last semester, Vietor was employed as a project assistant for wind-energy developer enXco Inc. to better understand the skills and knowledge that wind turbine technicians need for the job.

The wind industry doesn’t want just an electrician, Vietor said. Like so many other employers these days, the wind industry wants workers with multiple skills. A wind turbine technician, who troubleshoots and maintains a system that’s comparable to a jet engine, needs to have electrical, mechanical and industrial maintenance and repair skills.

In rural Minnesota, where the economy has relied mostly on jobs in agriculture and construction, more high-tech jobs are being created in the field of renewable energy. To prepare the next generation of workers for this employment shift, Riverland intends to collaborate with high schools in the region to put together green technology coursework so students may earn credits that will transfer to Riverland.


Plastics company goes green

The green movement is also pushing changes in industry, such as those announced recently at RTP Co. in Winona.


RTP is among the businesses that has made Winona a hotbed for the manufacturing of high-tech plastics.

The company custom-engineers thermoplastic composites, a process that combines a polymer resin with additives to change the characteristics of the plastic and make it ideal for a specific purpose. The compounds made by RTP are used in many industries, including aerospace, automotive and consumer goods.

In recent months, RTP introduced two types of specialty compounds to its product lines: Bioplastic compounds and other specialty compounds made from post-consumer content resins.

Compounds with post-consumer content resins reuse plastic that would have gone into landfills and recycle it back into the manufacturing process.

Bioplastic compounds contain resins from rapidly renewable resources such as corn and are alternatives to petroleum-based plastics.

"The use of bioplastic compounds lessens dependence on non-renewable resources; they also have a lower carbon footprint, their manufacture emits less carbon dioxide and requires less energy, making them more environmentally favorable than traditional plastics," said Andy Lamberson, manager of marketing and corporate development at RTP Company.

Bioplastics have been used for a while in the manufacturing of non-durable goods including bottles and utensils, but they are used today for many more high-tech applications.

"It’s just not for food containers anymore," Lamberson said.

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