As momentum builds behind a multi-billion public works project to cleanup the Great Lakes, civic leaders and entreprenurial thinkers here in Cleveland are building a team of public and corporate officials to attract as much of that funding as possible and diversify the local economy.
The Cuyahoga Lake Erie Environmental Restoration Technology Enterprise Center, or CLEERTEC, was organized to hatch the cutting edge ideas for new water-friendly technologies and secure the R&D dollars to turn those ideas into new products and services.
"Think about the Clean Air Act," said Jim White, executive director of the Cuyahoga River Remedial Action Plan and a leader behind the CLEERTEC initiative. "When it was passed, a bunch of companies, including several here in Cleveland, jumped into the smokestack cleaning management business. Precipitators. Ion scrubbers. Filters. All that stuff. They developed an industry that did not exist before the Clean Air Act. Now fortunes are made by people who make and sell stuff that make air quality better. The same thing now needs to happen for products that assist with [Great Lakes restoration]."
CLEERTEC already is working on a strategy to leverage the biogenetics expertise in Cleveland's world-class medical community to fight invasive species. The initiative also has secured a limited amount of federal funding to develop a prototype "green bulkhead" system that allows the commercial freight industry and fish to coexist in working waterways like the Cuyahoga River.
"We want Cleveland to emerge as a center for environmental restoration technology," White added.
CLEERTEC is that latest sign that a major investment in revitalizing Great Lakes waterways will put people to work today, enhance quality of life to attract the workers of tomorrow, and spin off new industries with global significance. But elected officials continue to perceive the program as a one-dimensional environmental cleanup project. As a result, they've lacked the will to dedicate funding.