Aaron Nousaine is a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning. He is currently working with the Land-of-Sky Regional Council in Asheville through the Carolina Economic Revitalization Corps (CERC).
As described in an earlier post, the Land-of-Sky Regional Council has initiated an effort to better understand and promote the clean energy industry in western North Carolina (WNC). The most recent outcome of that effort are the preliminary results of a convenience survey of clean energy businesses located in the region. Conducted between January and June of this year, the survey documented such topics as primary business focus, product destinations, current and future projected employment, and business development needs, among other topics.
The survey roughly replicates a methodology used by the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA) for their Census 2009. Over the six month period some 125 unique businesses and non-profit organizations answered the survey. Of these, 112 are based within the region and nearly all provide products and services within at least one of the region’s 31 counties.
Preliminary results suggest a higher concentration of businesses and organizations involved in clean energy education, systems installation, and research and development. Among the many different potential clean energy business focus areas, a majority were involved in energy efficiency and solar, compared to wind, biomass, hydroelectric, smart grid, energy storage, or alternative fuels. The majority of businesses (79 percent) reported North Carolina as the primary destination for their products and services with only five percent servicing the border states, 15 percent serving the nation as a whole, and only around one percent exporting outside the U.S. Similarly, most businesses reported revenue of less than $500,000 with, in most cases, over 75 percent of this revenue coming from clean energy business activities. Together, these suggest that the WNC clean businesses sector possesses significant room for growth.
Nearly 40 percent of businesses reported ongoing use of community college business development services, and over 50 percent noted that they would be interested in using business development services were they tailored to their specific needs. The highest need areas were identified to be business planning, marketing/advertising, workforce training, and coordination with state or federal government.
Some of the most interesting responses were those to the survey’s open ended questions. One question in particular requested respondents to list the primary barriers to growth in the clean energy sector. These responses can be roughly categorized into the four categories of financing, public awareness, public policy, and market readiness.
Although the results of this survey are still preliminary and the survey methodology relied upon convenience sampling that leveraged existing industry relationships, the information collected has already provided researchers and policy advocates with useful insight into the structure of the region’s emerging clean energy industry cluster. As the Building the Clean Energy Economy project continues additional information and detail will continue to be collected through a mixed methodology of algorithmic and heuristic data collection. For additional detail regarding the survey and the ongoing clean energy economy project, please refer to http://www.cleanenergywnc.org/newsite/.