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October 23, 2014

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Six questions for Jaime Cruz, ‘green economy’ director

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Jaime Cruz, an engineer who helped bring energy efficiency to CityCenter as energy manager for MGM Mirage, now helps people find and train for green jobs as director of the green economy push of Workforce Connections.

Jaime Cruz was the first person to carry the title of energy manager at MGM Mirage when he took the job in 2003. The mechanical engineer went on to join a team charged with ensuring that CityCenter, the world’s largest privately funded group of buildings, is energy-efficient.

Now the 43-year-old hopes to apply that experience in a new job directing a “green economy” push for the Southern Nevada Workforce Investment Board, recently renamed Workforce Connections. The organization gets federal money, including about $15 million in stimulus funding, to help people find and train for jobs. Cruz’s task is to make sure many, if not most, of those jobs are “green,” which led to our first question for him.

What exactly is a green job?

We’re trying to define the whole notion. Some people think that it only means jobs like helping build and install solar panels. But if you work for a hotel that is certified as energy-efficient, one interpretation is that this is a green job. We hope to find examples that are more aggressive in their interpretation.

So how do you find these jobs?

My focus right now is to find partnerships in the private and public sectors with people who are going to supply those jobs. Then we can find out what those people need and help make sure employees are trained for those jobs.

Does that include CityCenter?

This is a project I know very well, and nowhere in the world is a building of that size going to be that green. We can help identify what skills are going to be needed there, whether that’s engineers, carpenters or plumbers. It will be different from any other hotel in the way it saves energy and water. Though the jobs may not be 100 percent different from what they would be elsewhere, there will be a need for training in many cases.

Why does Southern Nevada need green jobs?

The current economic climate has accentuated the point that, for a long time, we’ve had all our eggs in one basket, with jobs in the service economy and construction. What we’ve seen is that we have to diversify, and green jobs are one way.

What are the challenges?

In the long term, we need policies to change the way this community looks at solar energy, more cooperation with the federal government over land use and, with the private sector, ways to make solar energy more affordable. But in the meantime we have to attack what we have control over. For example, if we can find ways to make large buildings more energy efficient, that will create more jobs.

Sort of like what you did?

I would like to replicate my story for many others, helping create opportunities for people to contribute to large companies by convincing these companies to focus on this area. For example, MGM Mirage started with just me, but now they have a whole department of 12 people.

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