The E2/NCSEA Tour Group at Plantd’s Facility in Oxford, NC

Like much of the rest of our country, North Carolina is experiencing an accelerating boom in its clean energy and cleantech industries, driving economic development and job growth in communities across our state and setting us on a fast track to the clean energy economy of the future.

For a picture of this economic expansion, look no further than E2’s Clean Jobs North Carolina 2023 report, which shows over 105,000 North Carolinians employed in clean energy. And our Clean Economy Works tracker provides a sense of the enormous growth on the near horizon, with 13 large-scale clean energy projects announced in North Carolina in the last 15 months alone, representing $18.6 billion in private-sector investment and 7,600 additional clean energy jobs expected to be created in the coming years.

It’s critical that North Carolina’s policymakers at both the state and federal level understand this ongoing economic success story, especially as they consider energy and innovation policy moving ahead. And while the data makes it clear that clean energy is a rising economic juggernaut, policymakers also need to see the people and businesses behind the numbers.

Cue our Sustainable Businesses Tour in the Durham area earlier this month, where E2 partnered with North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association to lead 20 state and federal policymakers and other stakeholders — including representatives from both major political parties and E2 Chapter Directors — through tours of three homegrown companies that reflect the accelerating growth and remarkable diversity of the local cleantech ecosystem.

Our first stop was Plantd, an Oxford, NC-based company manufacturing sustainable building materials for homebuilders. Growing from three co-founders (including E2 member and CEO Josh Dorfman) to 70 employees in just a few years, Plantd’s team is building a first-of-its-kind production facility to produce carbon-negative building materials made from locally grown perennial grass. In doing so, they are also revitalizing farmland across North Carolina and reinvigorating a local economy that once relied on the tobacco industry for its wellbeing.

Next was Windlift, a company in south Durham developing new technology to harness wind energy, replacing the tower and foundation of a traditional wind turbine with an innovative design leveraging a tethered flying vehicle and machine learning to capture wind energy using 90 percent less material. By utilizing cutting-edge materials manufacturing and advanced modelling software, Windlift is building a new kind of wind energy with terawatt-scale potential if deployed offshore, as well as military and emergency response applications. The Windlift team (with E2 member Ben Leape serving as their Vice President of Business Development) is also growing quickly, as they are currently hiring for 18 new positions.

Our final stop was at Mystic Farm & Distillery, located just east of downtown Durham. While distilling might not immediately come to mind at the mention of clean energy and sustainability, Mystic is proof that even the world’s oldest industries can benefit from cleantech innovations. While the tour participants sampled some of Mystic’s award-winning whiskey, they learned about how Mystic has successfully integrated sustainability into its business model, with an onsite solar system providing much of their energy needs, a zero-waste production process, and use of local grain for their mash. And with plans to build off their success and substantially scale up their production in the years ahead, Mystic will provide only more good-paying job opportunities and greater tax revenue to the local community.

As we wrapped up a full afternoon, you could feel the sense of inspiration in the air. Participating state and federal policymakers expressed appreciation for the insider’s perspective on these fast-growing companies and excitement for what their growth (and the growth of hundreds of companies like them throughout the state) means for North Carolina’s economic prospects going forward. As we reminded the policymakers during our goodbyes, E2 and its business network stand prepared to partner with them to advance smart economic and energy policies that will keep NC’s clean economy growing in the years to come, helping our state stake its claim as a leader in the clean economy of the future.

The Tour Group at Windlift’s facility in Durham
The Tour Group at Mystic Farm & Distillery in Durham

E2: Showing Policymakers the Companies Driving North Carolina’s Clean Economy Expansion was originally published in e2org on Medium.

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