OPINION: The “green jobs” success in Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Red district

09/20/2019 — Dalton, Georgia — The exterior of Hanwha Q Cells solar manufacturing facility in Dalton, Friday, September 20, 2019. The plant started production earlier this year. It is the largest solar manufacturing plant in the Western Hemisphere. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)
09/20/2019 — Dalton, Georgia — The exterior of Hanwha Q Cells solar manufacturing facility in Dalton, Friday, September 20, 2019. The plant started production earlier this year. It is the largest solar manufacturing plant in the Western Hemisphere. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)

DALTON -- Deep in the beating heart of U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s 14th Congressional District stands a sparkling new factory, humming 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week as 750 local workers spin out Georgia-made products.

The products in this case aren’t widgets or tires, but solar modules, assembled in Dalton, Ga., at the largest factory of its kind in the Western hemisphere.

Newly elected U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff toured the factory Monday as a part of his pitch for President Joe Biden’s ambitious $2 trillion-plus infrastructure proposal.

Ossoff also wanted to highlight the factory’s role in creating sustainable, renewable energy. Along with the $2.6 billion SK innovation battery factory being built in Commerce, the senator said the Hanwha Q CELLS solar plant is proof that green jobs can be the long-term future for Georgia’s manufacturing sector.

“This is a generational opportunity to invest in jobs here in Georgia and clean energy production,” he said, “And to reimagine our state’s place in our national economy as the leader in the sector.”

The topic of climate change has become so politicized that it’s tempting to chuckle at the irony of a Democratic senator promoting a solar factory just miles away from where former President Donald Trump came for his last rally as president, bellowing to tens of thousands of supporters about the “rigged” November election and mocking Democratic proposals, including green jobs and the Green New Deal, which he called “insane.”

“The Green New Deal, let’s rip down a building because its windows are too big,” Trump said. “Let’s build a building with no windows.”

Like Trump, the deep-red district’s congresswoman derides climate science as looney, Left-wing hoax stuff.

“How much taxes and how much money did the people back in the Ice Age spend to warm up the earth?” Greene said at her town hall meeting in Murray County last month.

“Maybe perhaps we live on a ball that rotates around the sun, that flies through the universe, and maybe our climate just changes.”

Greene won election here in 2020 with 74% of the vote. Billboards on the road South from the Q CELLS plant tell drivers to, “Pick peaches, not socialists,” and ask, “Worried? Jesus offers security.”

But it’s a mistake to assume the solidly conservative area wouldn’t also support green technology or green jobs based solely on the politics there.

In fact, Dalton’s Republican state Rep. Kasey Carpenter argues that factories like Q CELLS are thriving in conservative areas of the state and country because of Republican policies, not despite them.

“A business looks at the bottom line and if it’s more efficient and cheaper to operate in certain areas, then that’s where they’re going to go and they’ll get over the politics of it,” Carpenter said, adding that even Tesla founder Elon Musk has decamped from California to Texas.

To Carpenter’s point, the state of Georgia has aggressively recruited all manner of new manufacturing and investment, including renewable energy companies, with the Q CELLS factory and the $2.6 billion SK innovation battery plant in Commerce, as some of the biggest prizes to show for it.

And at the federal level, trade tariffs imposed by the Trump administration in 2018 on the solar industry accelerated Hanwha Q CELLS’ plans to locate a plant in the U.S., a company official said.

When the plant opened in Dalton in 2019, the AJC’s Matt Kempner reported that the facility was in line to get $37 million in state and local incentives tied to job creation and investments.

A new plant making parts for Mercedes Benz’s future electric crossover vehicle is going up next door, too.

Politics may be beside the point for the businesses, but skilled workers in a tight job market have a choice of where to go. Locals in Dalton said the chance to work for a sustainable energy company has attracted employees there, not turned them off.

“People began calling, emailing us immediately when the plant was announced, wanting to know how they could interview for a job there,” said Carl Campbell, the vice president of economic development for the Dalton Chamber of Commerce. “They want to work for companies that make products they believe in.”

Lisa Nash, the head of HR at the plant, described the workforce there in the way you’d think of young startup employees anywhere in the country — diverse (55% Latino), highly technical, and, she said, mission-driven.

“Our product has a bigger purpose than just the end use, it’s part of making a better way of life for our environment and our community,” she said. “People want to be a part of that.”

That’s the language Ossoff was speaking, too. At just 34-years-old, the senator is closer in age to the high school and college recruits at the plant than the dozen-or-so senior Korean executives who accompanied him to see the operations on the factory floor.

But Ossoff is also better positioned to think of the future of the state, where jobs and the environment can’t be a zero-sum game and political leaders will have to find a way to put their rhetoric aside to ensure the future of both.

I asked him how Democrats should solve for the problem that the Green energy boom in Georgia seems to be happening in the reddest parts of the state, where conservatives like Rep. Greene dismiss climate change, along with solutions to it that could be built in the state.

“I don’t think it’s a problem at all,” he said, adding that “an overwhelming, bipartisan majority of Georgians see the construction and operation of a plant like this one as an opportunity to generate wealth and create jobs and grow our economy.”

Now that Georgia has a Republican governor and General Assembly, along with two Democratic U.S. senators, green jobs are suddenly one of the few unicorn topics both parties seem energized and excited to promote simultaneously.

Maybe there’s a tax credit somewhere to incentivize more ideas like that.

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