The gloom and doom of today’s economy, especially in Cleveland, is covered almost daily. Job’s have been disappearing from the area at a rapid clip. The front page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer has almost been dedicated to breaking the bad news. See, Plain Dealer Article "Northeast Ohio Job Loses Spread."
The Article includes the graphic to the left which shows areas of job growth and declines. The question swirling around Norheast Ohio is how to get the overall economy growing again.
The most important change is to adopt a Statewide strategy to pursue jobs of the future, rather than putting most of our efforts and money to try and protect struggling industries like the auto companies. We need to look to where the jobs of the future are going to develop and be aggressive about jumping into that space.
Northeast Ohio has done that well with its efforts on attracting medical innovation investment. Growth in health care is here to stay.
So what is another job growth area of the future? It has been discussed with ever increasing regularity- Shifting towards attracting clean technologies jobs that will be associated with the monumental changes associated with energy and Climate Change.
I am by no means the first to point out Northeast Ohio needs to be aggressively positioning itself to attract those jobs. For example, locally we have had champions like the Cleveland Foundation pushing leaders to fully embrace a strategy to attract Clean Tech to Northeast Ohio (see, Rich Stuebi’s recent op-ed piece in the Plain Dealer) And leaders are paying attention. You may not know this but the Greater Cleveland Partnership was the only chamber of commerce in Ohio that supported including renewable mandates in Ohio’s Energy Bill that passed this summer.
Progress is being made, but we better double our efforts or will be beat out by other states and regions who have their eyes on the same jobs. Like it or not, Northeast Ohio’s chances at success are intertwined with State leadership efforts on developing a Clean Tech economy.
What is leadership? Leadership means being out front, not coming late to the party. For example, Iowa long ago embraced wind energy and has a large portion of generation from wind. So which state is landing a multi-million dollar new manufacturing facility? Of course it is Iowa. Meanwhile, Ohio was one of the last states to adopt a mandate on renewable energy.
Texas has also been taking notice and positioning itself to tie its economy to the forthcoming growth in Clean Tech. An organization call Catalyst just completed a study of Clean Tech opportunities in Texas. The study includes a series of recommendations for State leadership to adopt to ensure Texas is well positioned.
Below I have taken out the recommendations that are included in the Texas study and provided my own analysis as to how Ohio is doing in these areas. It is intended as a scorecard on Ohio’s strategy to attract Clean Tech jobs.
- Spur the creation of renewable energy markets by modernizing the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to promote non-wind generation, and update the state’s wind policy to promote the next generation of wind investment. (Ohio passed S.B. 221 that includes a broad RPS to encourage varies technologies. The key issue with Ohio’s RPS are the "out clauses" if costs to comply exceed 3%. Hopefully these clauses don’t render the mandate useless)
- Incent and reward residential and commercial energy customers who choose renewable electricity options, including aggressive rebates or tax credits for solar installation or other distributed generation. (Ohio does include some limited incentives for renewables. The Ohio Department of Development (ODOD) has information regrading solar for consumers. But an analysis should be done to compare Ohio incentives to those provided by other states. Growth in residential demand helps attract companies to Ohio.)
- Promote Texas companies by tying customer rebates and incentives to products designed, manufactured or marketed by Texas companies. (I am not aware that Ohio is doing anything in this area. I know there is a "Buy Ohio" program, but I don’t think it has much value in the Clean Tech arena)
Economic Development Recommendations
- Conduct a comprehensive analysis of how Texas’ new energy economic development incentives compare to those of other key states. (Ohio should perform such an analysis. Ohio has new funding for alternative energy projects through the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority (OAQDA). However, more information is needed as to whether this is enough of an incentive to put Ohio ahead of other states)
- Consolidate existing and new incentives into a comprehensive and simple New Energy Incentive Package, and actively promote and market it by establishing a visible, coordinated state office to serve as a single point of entry for new energy economic development inquiries. (Ohio gets a mixed scorecard on this one. Governor Strickland gets credit for creating an Energy Advisor position. Also, he has increased available incentives. However, authority and funding is split between OAQDA and ODOD.)
- Commit specific and significant portions of the Emerging Technology Fund and Texas Enterprise Fund to companies and efforts in new energy industries. (Again, Ohio has created the Alternative Energy Fund as part of its Job Stimulus Package. However, grants are limited to between $50,000 to $250,000 on renewables which seems hardly enough to attract series development. It may be a good program for helping bridge research to commercial deployment, but a larger effort is needed.)
- Create a state-sanctioned venue through which university and community college officials, workforce development officials, regional and local chambers of commerce, and state leaders can develop a Green Jobs education and training strategy. (This has not been done at all in Ohio. Efforts are scattered and not coordinated across the State.)
State Reputation Recommendations
- Change the political rhetoric surrounding the new energy economy. The world has recognized this is no longer a partisan issue, but an economic opportunity. As long as Texas leaders position the future—and the new energy economy—as bad for Texas’ economy, businesses will go to other states where they’re welcome. This will require current leadership to demonstrate more enthusiasm for the future economy. (This same sentiment can apply equally to Ohio. Due to its historical manufacturing base and reliance on coal, associations and leaders view major changes such as Climate Change as only bad for Ohio’s economy. To be a leader, the State must be willing to embrace the changes and work to take advantage of them.)
- Convene a blue-ribbon commission on the new energy economy—consisting
of traditional energy companies, renewable energy companies, universities,
entrepreneurs, utilities and economic development entities—to design
a long-term new energy economic development strategy for the state. This strategy should build upon the general suggestions of the Governor’s Competitiveness Council’s Report and State Energy Plan, and provide specific, executable strategies for promoting the new energy economy in Texas. (Another suggestion that would be wise for Ohio to adopt. While there have been smaller efforts, development of a comprehensive plan is the only way to position the State for success. A piece meal approach to incentives, RPS and training only means Ohio will be at best a middle tier state in attracting Clean Tech jobs)
- Appoint a statewide, cabinet-level New Energy Economy Czar, responsible for identifying, articulating and executing a statewide strategy for maximizing Texas’ New Energy economic development opportunity. (Governor Strickland did create the position of Energy Advisor filled by Mark Shanahan. However, this position certainly does not have equal status to the recommendation in the Texas study.)
- Launch a Manhattan Project-style initiative to design the model “future grid” that could serve as a national proving ground for emerging energy technology and a model for networks nationwide. (While I don’t have enough insight to determine if this is a worthwhile recommendation, the notion is correct that the State must take nationally visible efforts to distinguish itself from all the other States competing for these jobs.)