Electrifying Oregon’s Local Economies

The transition to electric vehicles – which dramatically cut air and climate pollution – is clearly underway. Global and national automakers are planning to phase out gas and diesel engines, spurred by national and state mandates to convert all new car sales to 100% electric as soon as 2035. The federal government and private sector companies are making huge investments in a national EV charging network.

To ensure small local businesses and the neighborhoods they serve also benefit from the EV transition, the Oregon Environmental Council (OEC) recently completed a three-year demonstration project. We partnered with several local women- and/or BIPOC-owned small businesses, with funding from the Oregon Clean Fuels Program via PGE’s Drive Change Fund.

“PGE is committed to advancing transportation electrification across our service area,” said Juliáe Riva, a transportation electrification specialist at PGE. “We are thrilled to support organizations like OEC that help lead the way to a cleaner and more equitable future in their local communities.”

OEC’s key partners in this effort have included the Hawthorne Auto Clinic (a progressive, woman-owned and operated auto repair shop in SE Portland), OpConnect (a Black-owned Wilsonville-based charger manufacturer), and Charli Charging (a homegrown EV charger installer).

Workforce Development

Although EVs require far less maintenance than gas- or diesel-powered vehicles, they still need some TLC and occasional repair. To familiarize auto shop technicians with EV technology, Hawthorne Auto developed an introductory EV repair training curriculum. They used a Nissan Leaf to provide shop techs with a first-hand look at an EV, helping them realize that many services on an EV are quite similar to those shops are already providing.

People charging an electric car“Many shops did not realize how fast this shift was going to happen or what they were going to do about it,” said Hawthorne Auto’s Sarah Heidler, who developed a training curriculum and led the trainings. “They now have some tools to move through this new phase in our industry.”

Hawthorne’s introductory training has also spurred greater interest in more advanced trainings that can empower shop techs to safely work with the high-voltage elements of an EV engine. Fortunately, PGE’s Drive Change Fund has also invested in developing EV repair curriculums at Portland Community College, Clackamas Community College, and Mt. Hood Community College.

Small Business Competitiveness

Man next to electric car charging station

[Farhad Ghafarzade, Owner of Green Drop Garage]

Knowing how to service a customer’s EV isn’t helpful unless you can also charge it. Charli Charging installed OpConnect chargers at Hawthorne Auto, Professional Auto Body and Paint (a second-generation Vietnamese-American-owned business in Portland’s Cully neighborhood) and at two Green Drop garage locations in SE Portland. The chargers help those shops be competitive in a world where the lion’s share of EV repair work has been done at global car dealerships, even after EVs go off warranty (as more and more do, after every passing year).

Consumer Education

The project also provided new or used EVs to all three shops which have, in turn, deployed the cars to spur consumer interest by using them to shuttle customers whose gas or diesel vehicles are under repair. Green Drop’s owner, Farhad Ghafarzade, was so excited that he created a staff “concierge” position to enhance the customer experience.

Job Creation

EV ChargerClean energy growth is already driving job creation and small business development here in Oregon. Since our original grant proposal was submitted in 2021, our EVSP partner Charli Charging has grown from two employees to nearly a dozen. Charli worked with union-affiliated electricians and concrete contractors to install chargers at the auto service shops. All funds spent on this project were direct investments into the local economy.

“Working with the OEC and our other nonprofit partners to secure grants from the Drive Change Fund has been an immensely rewarding way to grow our business,” said Charli Charging founder and CEO Alex Hassen. “We are thrilled to participate in a project that increases low-income community access to EV charging and also directly invests in local talent development.”

A More Sustainable (and Local) Economy

A sustainable economy is often described as a “circular” economy in which nothing is wasted. When circular economies are also local, they help communities thrive.

OpConnect is the only EV charger manufacturer headquartered in Portland and is part of the state’s growing “cleantech” sector. OpConnect’s founder and CEO Dexter Turner was happy to provide “local” technology and resources for this project.

“OpConnect is honored to be a part of helping other local businesses gain access and familiarity with electric vehicles and EV charging,” Turner said. “It is great to see a local effort like this succeed.”

OEC Executive Director Jana Gastellum summed it up this way:

“OEC has always believed that a sustainable environment and a sustainable economy go hand-in-hand. We’re delighted to have had the opportunity to support equitable workforce development, create local jobs, and cut climate pollution. This partnership with PGE and auto shops was a win-win for everyone!”


OEC’s climate and transportation work is made possible by people across the state who care about supporting Oregon’s communities and safeguarding the future. Make a difference. Become a member of OEC today

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