Jobs Close to Home – a Critical Need for the Tri-Cities Workforce

Jason Lohr grew up in Kennewick and returned to the community to start his family and join a trade union with IBEW local 112 as an electrician. He values that his work offers the middle-class income that helped him get married, buy a house, and have a child. He values how his work means he can build the life he loves.

The challenge for Jason, like many in the trades, is that large projects requiring skilled labor are often sited well outside of his community. Tradespeople have work opportunities, but they can be far from home. Jason may travel up to two hours to get to a work site.

“For one project, I was leaving at 4am and coming home right before bedtime, missing my two-year-old during all the daytime hours,” Jason says. “It’s not uncommon for folks in the building trades to have to work all over.”

And in this region of Washington, sometimes that can prove hazardous with snow, ice, and long dark winters. Jason has had to make the choice to not work some days to ensure his own safety while traveling. And, with the rising gas prices, working that far away is becoming harder economically too.

Still, he loves that his job supports his family and allows him to work on fascinating projects that support the overall region economically. This includes his current project building a solar farm south of Arlington. He would love to see more projects and jobs like this available closer to home. That’s why he supports the Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center – it offers good jobs that are easy to access for local tradespeople.

“Being in the trades is my ticket to the middle class, and it would be nice to have work close to home,” said Jason. “Those of us in the good paying, union-class trades tend to be on large industrial projects which are just so far away. There is no industrial work in or around the city, which is what inspired me to run for city council.”

Jason was moved to run for city council to support more industrial investments in the community. He notes that zoning for residential and commercial land far exceeds industrial land uses. That makes projects like Horse Heaven valuable for the regional workforce because the wind and solar energy will be co-located on farmland with each landowner making choices about their use of land. It also keeps the area competitive for jobs and economic growth with neighboring communities.

“We’re a working-class community that needs reliable jobs,” said Jason. “Our livelihoods depend upon industrial infrastructure. How long will we wait to catch up?”

To be clear, Jason supports industrial infrastructure that is a net benefit to the community. He doesn’t want to see Kennewick or the Tri-cities investing in industry that won’t last, damages the land and water, or takes advantage of the community.

“I don’t want to be another Flint. Coal or a chroming facility would contaminate the land and likely be shut down because they can’t meet the clean water act,” said Jason. “But there is plenty of good industrial work that doesn’t harm. The solar industry will not have that kind of impact.”

And Jason knows how industrial solar gets installed. At his current jobsite, he works alongside a large crew putting together acres of solar panels. With solar, Jason explains, the work can’t be prefabricated overseas and simply installed after the fact. These projects require a lot of experienced, on-site labor to bulk together posts, tubes, panels, and inverters for every block of solar installed. It also requires engineering, production, and planning teams to support the project from start to finish.

“It takes a lot of people. It’s intense labor that you can’t shortcut. But companies are making this investment in the labor because the energy generated is going to be valuable for decades,” Jason said. “Horse Heaven would be good for the community because of the large number of jobs right next door.”

Also good for the community is the infrastructure created by this project, including an energy substation. Jason feels this could enable larger investments with other manufacturing and industrial projects in properly zoned areas that can take advantage of the expanded infrastructure for coordinated growth. This means more jobs into the future, not just maintaining the Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center projects – which will require ongoing labor – but also new projects that are close to home and could align with the region’s economic goals.

“My jobs are always temporary. In construction, when you are done, you’re done,” said Jason. “Every single job I do is temporary, but over the life of my career I will work all the time. The only way to make my job not work, is to stop building things. That’s why I feel strongly about advancing good industrial projects in the community.”

For Jason, the idea of increasing energy independence and the reliability of the power grid while generating a multitude of jobs locally would make Kennewick and the Tri-Cities a vibrant economically strong region. And that’s where policy is going. He says “The wind is blowing into solar projects. It’s going to happen and it’s going to happen for a long time.” All the more reason for Jason to support clean energy projects close to home.

Because of the long-term viability of clean energy production, the ongoing job opportunities and economic investments, and the growth of the Tri-Cities region in a safe, sustainable way, Jason supports the Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center. At the end of the day, for Jason, it’s about ensuring that the good-paying union jobs available for the local workforce are easy to access and allow for a healthy work/life balance.

“My community – those of us who work with our hands and build our roads, buildings, homes, and infrastructure – we could really use the work and be able to leave and get home in time for dinner.”