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Texas sees decline in clean energy jobs — and more losses are expected due to coronavirus

A new report indicates the Lone Star State lost 4,246 clean energy jobs — a 1.7 percent decline in the state's clean energy workforce. Getty Images

The dangerous duo of the global oil glut and the coronavirus-spawned economic shutdown already has whacked Houston's oil and gas sector. The crippling of the American economy has taken its toll on the region's clean energy industry as well.

In a report released April 15, a coalition of clean energy groups tallied the loss of 106,472 U.S. clean energy jobs in March. Texas accounted for 4,246 of the lost jobs, a 1.7 percent decline in the state's clean energy workforce. A metro-by-metro breakdown wasn't available.

The nationwide loss erased all of last year's gains in clean energy jobs in the renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean vehicles, energy storage and clean fuels segments, the report states.

While that's a troubling development, the report predicts more than 500,000 clean energy jobs could at least temporarily be wiped out in the coming months. That would represent about 15 percent of the country's clean energy workforce.

"The economic fallout from COVID-19 is historic in both size and speed," Phil Jordan, vice president and principal of BW Research Partnership, says in a release. "Activities across the entire range of clean energy activities, from manufacturing electric vehicles to installing solar panels, are being impacted. And the data pretty clearly indicate that this is just the beginning."

Based on an analysis of U.S. Department of Labor data, the report found those who lost jobs included electricians, HVAC and mechanical technicians, construction workers, solar power installers, wind power engineers and technicians, and manufacturing workers.

The report was produced by E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), E4TheFuture and BW Research Partnership.

Gregory Wetstone, CEO of ACORE, tells InnovationMap that the country's clean energy sector has been hobbled by supply chain disruptions, shelter-in-place orders and other pandemic-related interruptions.

"It is impossible to know the long-term trajectory of this pandemic, but it clearly threatens the trajectory of an industry that has led the nation in job creation for five consecutive years and is securing annual investment numbers in the range of $50 billion," Wetstone says. "With smart federal policies, we can continue that upward trajectory."

Ed Hirs, an energy fellow and economics lecturer at the University of Houston, says he thinks the hit being taken by the clean energy sector is a short-lived setback. He cites the long-term strength of the clean energy industry — strength demonstrated by recent high-profile investments in the sector.

In December, Private Equity News reported that investment manager BlackRock Inc. raised a record $1 billion for its latest renewable energy fund. A month later, Altus Power America Inc., a solar energy provider based in Connecticut, said private equity powerhouse Blackstone Group Inc. had pumped $850 million into the company.

Hirs says he expects post-coronavirus growth in the clean energy sector to be "pretty robust." As of April 2019, the Houston area was home to more than 100 wind-related companies and more than 30 solar-related companies, according to the Greater Austin Partnership.

At the end of 2019, Texas boasted 683 solar companies and 10,261 solar jobs, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Solar investment in the state exceeds $6 billion. The association says the Lone Star State "is poised to become a nationwide leader in solar energy … ."

As for wind, it essentially tied with coal as the top source of power for Texas homes and businesses in 2019. This year in Texas, wind is projected to grab the No. 1 spot from coal. The state generates about one-fourth of the country's wind power, and the wind industry employs more than 25,000 Texans.

Hirs anticipates solar and wind installations in Texas will continue to escalate, although some companies might put off capital expenditures for about two to four months. "I don't see the economics changing on them anytime soon," he says.

The groundswell of interest in solar and wind power will be a boon to Texas and the rest of the country, Hirs says. A 2019 poll by the Insider website found that Americans prefer solar and wind over all other power sources.

"I don't think the loss of employment and loss of progress on clean energy … projects right now is anything but a temporary challenge," he says.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

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