Economy has new group seeing green

TRAVERSE CITY – When Jeffery Stratton moved his family to Traverse City from the Ludington area, he thought he'd do the same kind of work he always had, electrical contracting. What he found was a market saturated with traditional competitors who had been in the area for generations, as well as a construction industry in the beginnings of a slowdown.

"It has been a struggle to try and make a living here," Stratton said. "There is a lot of competition in the electrical market."

Economic necessity and his lifelong interest in environmental issues converged, and Stratton began investigating how he could use his electrician's skills to provide alternative energy to area residents, and make a living at the same time. His instincts, and his altruism, paid off and Stratton is now an expert on a burgeoning new "green" industry – wind energy.

"Now that I've found a product I can believe in, and can market, the competition level has dropped considerably," Stratton said.

His experience is indicative of the kinds of economic challenges and personal beliefs many members of a new professional group have in common. The Green Building Consortium is the brainchild of Traverse City realtor Tony Zimmerman, and has brought together builders, mortgage brokers, interior designers, electricians, architects, realtors and others in the housing business in order to explore "green" opportunities in the area. The group now meets monthly to network, discuss any pending state or federal legislation, and share ideas about "green" opportunities.

"It's clear we need less talk and more action and that's when I decided to propose starting a consortium that would develop an action plan," said Zimmerman. "It is my belief that this consortium will become a strong group of business, industry, educational foundations and government that work hard on sustainable green business and moving the economy forward as a result."

There were only a handful of people at the Consortium's first meeting in April; more than 40 showed up for their meeting in May. This level of interest, Zimmerman said, proves that local environmentalists and local businesses don't have to be at odds. As a certified EcoBroker, a realtor professionally trained to assist clients market and purchase properties with green features such as energy efficient appliances, sustainable building materials, and water-saving systems, Zimmerman said he personally hopes the group will lead to more green-built houses in the region.

"There is widespread recognition …that the truly sustainable solutions to many environmental problems are those from which there is money to be made."

A recent study conducted by Management Information Services, Inc., an economic consulting firm, bears this out. Their study found that in 2005, the latest year for which figures are available, the environmental industry nationwide generated more than $341 billion in sales and $47 billion in tax revenues. Another national group, the Clean Tech Venture Network, estimates that "green technology" investment in the U.S. from now through 2010 could be as high as $19 billion.

Zimmerman and the other members of the Green Building Consortium want to ensure that some of that sales revenue and investment money is spent in northern Michigan. One of those members, Ken Stevens, a mortgage broker with American Nationwide Mortgage Co., said he joined the group to better educate himself about available environmentally friendly products and services. Max Strickland, who offers green building consulting through Northern Evergreen Services, said he joined to network.

The group meets at the Flap Jack Shack from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. on the second Wednesday of the month until Exit Realty's new offices at 8th and Cass are finished.

For more info, call Tony Zimmerman, 231.534.5656. BN