University of Vermont

University Communications

UVM Alum Takes Part in White House Forum on Jobs, Economic Growth

Release Date: 12-15-2009

Author: Jeffrey R. Wakefield
Phone: 802/656-2005 Fax: (802) 656-3203

Jan Blittersdorf, '84, was nonplussed.

Who would barge unannounced into a special White House-sponsored meeting co-moderated by climate czar Carol Browner and energy secretary Steven Chu that also featured the likes of General Wesley Clark, Thomas Friedman, and the top executives of Dow Chemical and Home Depot, as well as Blittersdorf?

Not just anyone, it turned out.

"It was the President," said the CEO of wind energy high flyer NRG Systems of Hinesburg, Vt., one of just 120 corporate executives invited to the White House Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth, held earlier in the month at the Eisenhower Office Building, adjacent to the White House.

The setting was intimate. Blittersdorf was seated at a medium sized conference room table at one of forum's six breakout sessions, titled Innovation Agenda and Green Jobs of the Future.

President Obama "just literally pulled up a chair at the end of the table and said, 'I have 20 minutes. Let's talk,'" Blittersdorf said. "I was impressed watching him. He locked eyes and listened, and he wasn't fidgeting around or distracted. He was truly, truly listening."

Blittersdorf, who was nominated to participate in the forum by Vermont Congressman Peter Welch, with the White House making the final invitation, was the only Vermonter at the forum and the sole representative of the wind industry.

"As President Obama considers options to spur the creation of new jobs, Jan's voice and experience will contribute significantly to the discussion," Welch said in a press release issued before the forum. "NRG Systems is known not just in Vermont but throughout the world as a technological innovator, a quality employer and a leader in the emerging green economy."

Blitterdor's major contribution to the forum, she says, came when the topic of the renewable energy industry's strong desire for long term tax incentives, which would encourage investment and growth, came up.

"Carol Browner stopped the conversation and said, so what about this, let me hear from all of you at the table," Blittersdorf said. "I shot my hand up and she was like, 'Ahh, this must be what you wanted to talk about.' And when I said what I had to say, there were heads nodding all over. Yes, yes, yes."

Blittersdorf was impressed not only by President Obama's listening skills, but by his overall commitment to the forum. "He spent the entire afternoon with this group of 120 people," she said. "I really thought we would see him give a talk at the beginning and maybe close it at the end, but he gave a speech at the beginning, he came to two breakout sessions, and then he personally ran almost an hour long town hall meeting with the entire group."

Blittersdorf is currently in Copenhagen at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, where she'll participate in a CEO panel for delegates and wind industry representatives. She is at the conference with her husband and NRG founder, David ('81), and others from the company, as part of a delegation representing the Global Wind Energy Council.