We are all creatures of habit. Some habits are good and some are really bad. Many decades of cheap oil, coal, and natural gas have made our nation too dependent on fossil fuels. Transitioning away from these habits is going to take decades. Fortunately, for our nation, many states have been working on this for over a decade. It’s time for each of our fifty states to get involved and become a leader in some aspect of cleantech.
Cleantech can be hard to define, but just like pornography, you know it when you see it. Wikipedia says Cleantech is “products or services that improve operational performance, productivity, or efficiency while reducing costs, inputs, energy consumption, waste, or environmental pollution”.
Working for a cleantech startup in a state that is not ranked within the top 25, caused me to think about what Connecticut could learn from the best cleantech states in the nation. So, I spent the past 18 months researching what the leading cleantech states were doing differently from states like my own. In the end, no single metric or characteristic stood out by itself to make a state a cleantech leader. Instead, I found several common themes among the leaders. The leaders really do have different habits.
Just like being tall doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be a great basketball player. Being a leading cleantech state goes beyond having the most of a particular clean technology installed or having the most people employed in cleantech.
Connecticut has a new governor and has recently passed sweeping energy reform Energy Bill SB 1243 (formerly SB 1). The next decade will be very exciting for Connecticut and other states if they look at their habits and take actions to direct them toward positive and attainable goals.
Does your state have any habits of cleantech leaders?
1. Leading States bring it all together
They start with a vision. They have the will. They are not afraid to change public policy or regulations to accomplish their goals. They always have strong input from community and industry groups. They encourage residents to reduce their environmental impact. The Leading states sometimes make you feel guilty if you do not. They look at their states environmental challenges and approach them from many different angles.
They set specific goals to achieve over time. Their goals can be very general such as having 20% renewable energy by 2020 or specific about installing one technology or a single environmental concern. They realize that no single technology is the silver bullet for the challenges their state and our nation are facing. So, they bet on multiple strategies and clean technologies in order to make progress.
2. Leading States believe strongly in education at all levels
Did you know that 80% of our nations leading cleantech states were also finalists in the 2010 Department of Education’s “Race to the Top”? This shows that leaders are willing to take risks on improving education and are not afraid to shake things up.
Leading states realize that you need more than talented engineers to succeed. They take a multi-disciplined approach to education and fund programs for many disciplines beyond engineering such as the environment, business, industrial design, and public policy.
They make cleantech related education available to everyone. From environmental awareness starting in K thru 12th grade to strong community college programs to adult education courses to four year and advanced degree programs. You will be exposed to cleantech in the leading states.
It is not easy, but they know good things happen when education collaborates with industry to do research, workforce training, and community outreach. Jobs are created and new businesses are born.
3. Leading States make mistakes
Leading states don’t always get it right the first time. No one state has it all figured out. But leading states blend economic and environmental improvement goals into a vision and keep on trying. They also attempt to deal with the regulatory and licensing issues that can stop cleantech dead in its tracks.
4. Leading States support entrepreneurs
They try their best to nurture cleantech startups. Sometimes these efforts are lead by the private side via foundations or non-profit groups that develop a roadmap for a clean technology and then build a cluster to support it. They also put their money where their mouth is and invest in local companies. They realize it takes more than money to succeed. Sometimes they develop state programs to create demand for the cleantech products their entrepreneurs have developed. The state support can evolve into its own form of an economic “ecosystem” that supports entrepreneurs and fosters strong ties to education and the community.
5. Leading States invest in Workforce Development
Our nation’s future is in cleantech and leading states try to develop career ladders around it. Leaders approach the workforce from all levels. Leaders support technical high school programs, community colleges, and adult education programs which are often the most agile to adapt and the first providers of cleantech education. Sometimes they require companies to train their workers before they can participate in state incentive programs.
They train heavily for the clean technologies that are here today and also for the ones of tomorrow. They do not always subscribe to the antiquated old school view to only fund workforce training for “guaranteed jobs” from employers. Sadly, this is the only metric for most federal workforce related grants. Washington needs new metrics to measure the effectiveness of workforce programs if we want to win the global cleantech race.
6. Leading States believe in Clusters
In Ohio, NorTech is building regional innovation clusters (small business incubators made up of universities and suppliers and manufacturers and more –- basically a self-contained supply chain that covers everything from attracting that initial capital to shipping that final product.) [Note: Actually, Connecticut has had clusters since the Rowland administration in a number of areas including insurance, etc. They are listed here.]
In Massachusetts, the New England Clean Energy Council, brings people together in the region to accelerate New England’s clean energy economy.
In Washington, DC, The Brookings’ Institute is piloting the concept of “metropolitan business planning”. This is a new approach to regional economic development. So far, they have pilot programs in three regions (Northeast Ohio, Minneapolis Saint Paul, and Seattle) and plan to introduce nationally. Read more about it in their new report.
7. Leading States start with Passion
Change is a lot easier and happens faster when passionate people are involved. Many initiatives in leading states were started by community groups, foundations, regional groups, and individuals who just cared. Once the effort got traction, the state usually helped scale it. Are there people in your state who are passionate about certain clean technologies? Have efforts been made to gain their input and use their talents? [Note: States don’t get passionate about anything much except football teams;>)]
8. Leading States have strong community lead initiatives
For example, in clean transportation think of CalCars and PlugInAmerica in California. The passionate people at these organizations started the clean transportation revolution. In Detroit, you have Motor City Connect that brings people together. In Pennsylvania, The West Philly Hybrid X Team dreamed up, designed and built a new vehicle to compete in the X Prize contest. All in the inner city. One of the big three automakers should hire the whole team.
Leaders don’t always wait for trends to be confirmed. In Ohio, The Cleveland Foundation for authoring a case study on electric drive vehicles in 2009 while the auto industry was melting down. They go with the best information they have at the time and adjust along the way.
9. Leading States bet on Multiple Technologies
Leaders are always experimenting and learning about new kinds of clean technology. They don’t always wait for the technology to be proven. They take gambles and try new approaches to make a technology more efficient. Policy change, community awareness, and education are “technologies” in leading states.
10. Leading States are willing to look beyond their past
Many leaders were not always “super green” and believers in cleantech. As a nation, it is great to see traditional coal states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio deeply involved in cleantech. They and other states are trying to reinvent themselves and become cleantech leaders.
Did you know that New Jersey, “the garden state” is now the sixth largest solar market in the world? This did not happen overnight or without some bumps along the way. But it happened.
The energy challenges our nation faces today are mammoth. Every state has something to contribute and good things can happen in your state. So, why not start the conversation today with some passionate people in your state and see where it goes?
Article by Frank Kuchinski, VP of Marketing Technology and Business Development for Poulsen Hybrid, LLC in Shelton, Connecticut. Poulsen Hybrid is a cleantech company that is developing a product to convert conventional vehicles into plug-in hybrids.