Pennsylvania is called the Keystone State for a reason: For centuries, the state—and Southwestern Pennsylvania, in particular—has been critical to producing the energy and goods that helped build the nation, including coal, steel, aluminum, and glass. The heavy industrial and manufacturing activity that once defined the region, however, has since waned, leaving many communities searching for new economic opportunities that can revitalize their towns, provide local revenue, and sustain workforces. The push to decarbonize the global economy presents an opportunity for Southwestern Pennsylvania to again become a hub for manufacturing, this time of the goods and technologies that will be critical to achieving net-zero economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions. This brief provides insights from a C2ES roundtable held virtually in Southwestern Pennsylvania in October 2022 on this possibility. It explores the potential future for climate-aligned manufacturing in the region, the challenges to realizing that future, and the policies and investments necessary to align the regional economy with full decarbonization.
Attract new climate-aligned manufacturing
- State government or regional economic development organizations should commission a clean energy supply chain study for Southwestern Pennsylvania to understand existing industry presence, potential growth opportunities, and regional assets that can help attract new, climate-aligned manufacturing to the region.
Develop a stronger Innovation ecosystem
- Regional economic development organizations, national labs, the private sector, government, and universities should collaborate to create a regional innovation program focused on decarbonizing the manufacturing and industrial sectors.
- The state should develop a state strategy for innovation that increases funding for Pennsylvania’s innovation programs and seeks to develop innovation hubs throughout the state.
Enhance industrial infrastructure
- Bolster DCED’s redevelopment playbook program for coal plants, mine lands, industrial sites, and brownfields across the state.
Create a coordinated regional strategic planning for manufacturing
- State government, economic development organizations, nonprofits, and industry should collaborate to form a regional planning body to advance climate-aligned decarbonized manufacturing in SWPA.
Enhance rural infrastructure and capacity
- Congress should expand federal resources to support local capacity building and transition planning in rural and energy communities.
- Congress should codify the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization and provide funding to expand its services across energy communities impacted by the energy transition.
- The state or regional organizations should create community-to-community learning networks centered on overcoming economic development challenges.
- The state should create a state-level ‘Buy Clean’ program to drive markets for low-carbon manufactured products.
- The state should fund demonstration projects to pilot energy efficiency and fuel switching in a variety of industrial operations.
- The state should place more emphasis on industrial decarbonization strategies when creating the next state Climate Action Plan.
Bolster renewable energy
- The state should pass legislation to modernize the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard by bolstering the role for zero- emitting energy sources and aligning it with federal climate goals.
- The state should commission a study to explore opportunities and challenges to expanding renewable energy generation in SWPA, including identification of sites suit- able for various types of resource development.
Prepare the workforce
- Training providers, industry, government, and labor unions should expand training and certification opportunities for the clean energy industry in Pennsylvania, including in construction and renewable energy.
- State government, industry, and workforce development organizations should partner to expand on-the-job training opportunities (e.g., apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeships) for young people to gain real-world work experience in the clean energy industry.
Invest in equity and environmental justice
- The state should create a state-level climate justice initiative that ensures the benefits from climate and clean energy investments in the state reach environmental justice and other marginalized communities.
With a robust history in the manufacturing sector, a skilled workforce, an emphasis on innovation, and ample industrial infrastructure, Southwestern Pennsylvania is well-positioned to become an investment destination for climate-aligned manufacturing. Stakeholders across the region have expressed interest and excitement about attracting such investment, in particular in industries that manufacture technologies and goods critical to the clean energy transition. But while there is high potential in Southwestern Pennsylvania, there are also considerable challenges to overcome to help the region thrive in a net-zero economy. Investments in strategic planning, rural capacity building, renewable energy, industrial decarbonization, environmental justice, and other needs are all required to help Southwestern Pennsylvania compete in a global economy increasingly pushed by the demand for sustainability. Such investments can help revitalize local economies across the region and secure Southwestern Pennsylvania’s long-term prosperity in a fully decarbonized future.
View more from the C2ES Regional Roundtable series here.