Ethanol Approaching $5 Billion Industry in Minnesota

Governor Tim Pawlenty's plan to promote alternative energy, steer the United States away from foreign oil, and modernize the Great Lakes economy is taking hold in Minnesota. And it's beggining to demonstrate some impressive results.

The ethanol industry is projected to do $5 billion in business in 2008, according to a report in today's West Central Tribune. The industry also could generate approximately 18,400 jobs for rural minnesotans.

“For a long time, people weren’t seeing the results” from the state’s investment in ethanol," Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson told the Tribune.

In 2007, 16 ethanol plants consumed 15 percent of the state's corn production to produce 550 million gallons of fuel. The estimated economic impact was $2.77 billion and more 10,300 jobs.

Five new or expanded plants are expected to add to production in 2008, pushing the state's estimated ethanol capacity to more than 1 billion gallons.

Detroit Defies Duty

The President of the United States called the American auto industry to service in his 2007 State of the Union Address. And the Detroit car companies basically said "no." As a resident of Michigan the response is disappointing to the point of embarrassment.

Set aside the increasingly popular idea - in the Great Lakes and across the country - that alternative energy innovation presents a real opportunity to generate jobs, diversify and grow the economy, and achieve more sustainable development. Set aside the idea that Michigan - building on the innovative prowess of the auto industry - strives to become a global leader of transportation technology.

The war in Iraq is costing the nation thousands of soldier's lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. And one of the most significant policy proposals President Bush introduced to fight terrorism in his recent speech wasn't ramping up troop levels in the Middle East. It was setting a long-term strategy to promote modern energy sources, kick America's dependence on foreign oil, and cut off the steady flow of U.S. oil dollars funding the enemy.

And the auto industry says ramping up fuel efficiency will cost too much, kill jobs, and stifle their corporate turnarounds? Henry Ford retooled entire factories to help win a world war! Who's side is modern day Ford, GM, and Chrysler on?

Congressman John Dingell, a Democrat, requested White House documents justifying the proposed fuel efficiency standards that would help the nation achieve a 20 percent reduction gasoline consumption in 10 years. "Please delineate any fuel saving technologies that were identified to justify a 4 percent annual increase [in fuel efficiency] for both passenger cars and trucks," the congressman asked.

Meanwhile, U.S. Representative Joe Knollenberg, a Republican, took to the editorial page of the Detroit News saying the new fuel standards "risk destroying the Big Three."

Without a doubt, the American auto industry is going through intense and wrenching change. And if President Bush was truly serious about fuel conservation he'd raise the gas tax. But aggressively pursuing new and more effective ways to power cars is not only in Detroit's long term interests, it's increasingly critical to the security of the nation.

Winds of Change

Could these grim looking coal-fired power plants scattered along the Lake Michigan shore finally be going the way of the dinosaur?

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission OK'd We Energies impressive plan to erect as many as 88 turbines and build a 10,500-acre wind farm just east of Lake Winnebago, according to a report in today's Fond du lac Reporter.

The so-called Blue Sky Green Field project could generate enough renewable electricity to power 45,000 homes, according to the company's overview.

"While other are talking about reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, Wisconsin is building wind turbines, investing in biomass, exploring other renewable sources, and moving toward energy indepedence," PSC Chairman Dan Ebert said in a prepared statement.

The chairman of the Town of Marshfield said the project would bring jobs to his area. Indeed, somebody has got to build, operate, and maintain all these new turbines.

In 2006, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle signed legislation requiring power producers to generate 10 percent of the state's electricity from renewable sources by 2015.

Clean Water Means More Money

Providing the latest evidence that a healthy environment is a unique economic asset, a major research organization in Ohio has released a report confirming that clean water increases property values along the Lake Erie waterfront.

Researchers at Ohio State University determined that, when water clarity in Lake Erie increased, property values along the lakeshore jumped 4 to 5 percent.

"This research shows that there is a direct link to environmental amenities and increased economic value," said Dr. Elena Irwin, an associate professor at OSU's Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics.

The new research, funded by the Ohio Sea Grant Program, adds to the growing body of economic data that suggests significant investments in environmental restoration can yield big returns. It comes as the Great Lakes congressional delegation prepares to reintroduce this March legislation to initiate a $20 billion public works project to cleanup the region's globally unique water resources.

So far, that initiative has failed to gain significant traction because it's talked about and viewed narrowly as a big government environmental cleanup project rather than a strategic investment in the region's 21st century development plan.

Monster Fuel

"Bush plan to cost Big 3," the Detroit News howled in a front page headline the morning after the president's 2007 State of the Union Address, "He wants tougher fuel rules, more ethanol use."

In a vexing effort to ensure that Michigan, a state aiming to be a global transportion leader, falls even further behind the world's leading fuel efficiency innovators, Michigan's Congressional delegation held the line.

"We don't need the hammer of job-killing (fuel efficiency) increases," Representative Joe Knollenberg told the News. "This proposal would lead to more job cuts and plant closings in Michigan."

Phooey. There's growing worldwide demand for smarter, more fuel efficient cars and trucks. And President Bush, in a rare example of meaningful leadership on energy use and geopolitical strategy, used his annual speech to set the impressive goal of reducing gasoline consumption in America by 20 percent in 10 years.

Several governors across the Great Lakes region are betting on the growing alternative energy industry to help reverse their state's economic decline, generate jobs, particularly in rural areas, and stregthen the country's moral, financial, and military position against foreign nations and terrorists.

But the automakers - and the elected leaders who back their 20th century thinking - remain slow to advance real solutions to America's problems.

Digging deeper into today's edition of the Detroit News...Drive, the section devoted entirely to the latest auto news, features a product review of Monster Trucks. The highlight? The 2008 F-Series Super Duty Ford trucks. Mileage rating? "Not rated because of size," the paper reports. "Expect powerful engines to gobble up fuel."

This the day after the President of the United of America says conserving gas is essential to national security and prosperity.

Thinking Presidency, Sen. Clinton Talks with America

Playing up her midwest values, and cheering the Chicago Bears onto Superbowl victory, New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who was born in Chicago, announced the formation of a committee to probe the possibility of running for President of the United States.

"It's time to renew the promise of America," the senator said in an online video. "Our basic bargain. That no matter who you are, or where you live, if you work hard, and play by the rules, you can build a good life for yourself and your family."

"I grew up in a middle class family in the middle of America," she added. "We believe in that promise. I still do."

In the video, the senator sketched a rough outline of her top policy priorites: "bringing the right end to the war in Iraq;" restoring America's respect; promoting energy independence; responsible government spending; and modernizing health care.

An early preview of her commitment to the Great Lakes region will come this March, at Great Lakes Day in Washington D.C., when lawmakers reintroduce legislation that aims to advance a public works project to restore the waters of the Great Lakes, revive the region's central cities, and put people back to work in struggling places like Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin - the very heart of the United States.

Portland, Not Detroit, Positioning to Lead Mobility Innovation

As the City of Detroit wraps the 2007 North American Auto Show this weekend, and the State of Michigan desperately clings to the hope that a new kind of automobile will somehow help to revive its reputation for innovation and economic might, the City of Portland is preparing to announce its own transportation initiative that is all but guaranteed to generate jobs, diversify the local economy, and establish Oregon as leader of advanced mobility technology in the 21st century.

On Friday, January 26 Portland and Oregon Iron Works, a major US defense contractor, are expected to announce a joint project to manufacture a protype American-made streetcar. Dozens of cities across the United States currently are planning to add streetcar systems to enhance access to, and the convenience of, their downtown cores. But no companies in the country currently build modern streetcar vehicles.

Portland, for instance, bought the vehicles for their streetcar system, launched in 2001, from a firm in the Czech Republic. Now there patnering with the European company to bring the technology to the domestic market.

"We think there's something like 50 or 60 cities around the US looking at streetcars," said Chandra Brown, vice president of business development at Oregon Iron. "So we decided it could be a lucrative niche market we wanted to pursue."

"If we can build 10-20 cars a year," Ms. Brown added, "that would require 100's of new employees trained specifically on how to build the vehicles. We may even build a new facility specifically for production."

Brown said Portland alone will soon need 8 cars; Albuquerque, NM will be looking for as many as 8; Miami plans to build a streetcar system. Cities in the Midwest, too, right in Big Auto's backyard, have jumped into the streetcar revolution as well. Minneaopolis, St. Louis, Chicago, Dayton, all are in some stages of developing a streetcar system. Kenosha, WI already built one. Grand Rapids, MI recently unveiled a preliminary plan to construct a network of 6 vehicles.

But, even as they forfeit hundreds of millions of dollars in profits, lay off tens of thousands of workers, and cede their authority and stature as the world's leading transportation innovators to the competition, the American car companies seem to be oblivious to the rapidly emerging mass transit market because they see themselves as just that, car makers, rather than mobility providers who innovate, design, and manufacture a range of mobility options.

MN State of the State 2007

Modernizing education and health care, innovating new renewable energy sources, and ensuring responsible governance and spending formed the body of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's 2007 State of the State Address.

Unlike a number of Great Lakes states, Minnesota is actually wrestling with a $2 billion surplus. So as much as a 4 percent funding increase for every school district in the state is not just pie in the sky. Indeed, Gov. Pawlenty, a Republican, said its an essential component of the state's economic development strategy.

"We're blessed with fantastic educators, engaged parents, and above average students," the governor said in his speech delivered earlier today, "but nation-leading in student performance isn't good enough anymore. Our students need to be world-leading."

Gov. Pawlenty also called on the state Legislature to pass a comprehensive renewable energy plan to speed the nation's independence of foreign oil and spark economic development opportunities for rural Minnesota.

Game Changer?

Promising to bring "a different kind of politics" to the nation's Capitol, Barack Obama, the freshman senator from Illinois, almost declared his entry into the 2008 presidential campaign today. Instead he announced an exploratory committee. New York Senator Hillary Clinton is expected to announce her intensions soon.

That means the two frontrunners in the camp of Democrats vying to become the next President of the United States will come from the greater Great Lakes, a region hit hard by globalization and desperate for meaningul leadership in Washington.

In a 3-minute online video announcement, Sen. Obama provides a glimpse of his potential campaign priorities. Improving healthcare. Ensuring affordable college education. Protecting pensions and workers rights. Relieving America's dependence on foreign oil. And, of course, the war in Iraq.

"It's not the magnitude of our problems that concern me the most," Sen. Obama said. "It's the smallness of our politics. America's faced big problems before. But today our leaders in Washington seem incapable of working together in a practical, common sense way."

From Decline to Renewal in Ohio

With his state ranked 48th in terms of economic momentum, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland made education the centerpiece of his 2007 Inaugural Address.

"Gone are the days when nations and states competed economically based on only natural resources or technological superiority," Gov. Strickland said. "Today, the tools we compete with are the creativity and productivity of our own minds and talents. This reality should shock us from complacency and compel us to action."

Like the governors of Michigan and New York, which respectively rank 50th and 42nd on the economic momentum scale prepared for the National Governors Association, Gov. Strickland also railed against the cynics ("Get thee behind me, Satan," he said.) and called on the people of his state to set aside the politics of division and unite behind a focused list of priorities: affordable health care, solid education, vibrant cities, and fiscal responsibility.

"In this winter morning air, we are greeted not only with the ceremonial passing of the torch, but with the reality of hard choices," the governor said. "The road of decline or the road of renewal. Neither route will be easy. But only one will lead to prosperity."

What Century is This?

For every company that symbolizes Michigan's creeping transition to the knowledge economy - Google, United Solar Ovonic, Compuware - there seems to be a similiar number of profiteers trying to perpetuate business as usual and pull the state back towards the outmoded development patterns of the 20th century.

Just look at the types of enterprises the state's Department of Environmental Quality is approving out of the gate in 2007. The agency recently gave prelimary approval to Kennecott Minerals Company's plan to dig for nickel and copper beneath the Yellow Dog River in the Upper Peninsula. And the agency also awarded preliminary approval for Nestle Water's plan to mine high quality H2O from the water systems of two designated trout streams in the central Lower Peninsula. What's next, trapping beavers for fur?

Both developments promise to create dozens - maybe even 100 - jobs. But they both also raise significant questions about Michigan's desire and ability to protect the water resources and natural amenities that drives its quality of life, arguably the state's most important asset in the global economy.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jennifer Granholm used an appearance at the Detroit Auto Show to remind us - yet again - that innovation is the key organizing principle of 21st century prosperity. Indeed, ideas and information are the essential raw material in the modern economy.

Blagojevich Inaugurated for 2nd Term

"For every good idea, there's a special interest standing in the way," Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in his 2007 Inaugural Address.

Michigan's Two-faced Water Play

In the latest chapter of a now six-year-long legal battle, the courageous Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation head back to the courtroom later this week in an attempt to stave off the reckless exploitation of the state's groundwater resources by the booming bottled water business, represented by Nestle Waters.

The case is fraught with legal questions. Arguments in front of the state Supreme Court on Thursday likely will center on whether the citizens have standing to sue on behalf of protecting the state's water resources. Other major questions relate to whether major corporations can mine, bottle, and sell a public resource for private profit, and the balance of surface water and groundwater rights for property owners.

But perhaps the most pressing big-picture question as the state and region deindustrializes and struggles to evolve its economy to compete in the Age of Knowledge is this: What is the plan for using the Great Lakes to prosper in the 21st century?

Clearly, Michigan and the Great Lakes region can sustain a robust bottled water industry under the appropriate laws and environomental protections. But is that really the kind of innovative industry that will diversify the state's portfolio for the modern era? There is a range of new, high-tech businesses organizing around the water resources, many focused on cleaning, conserving, and restoring the increasingly valuable resource. Not selling it off. So which new industries do we want to lure, invest in, and grow? What is the economic development strategy to leverage the Great Lakes asset?

On a separate but related topic, the timing of this renewed interest in the MCWC v. Nestle case sheds new light on the hypocrisy of Michigan's immature water policy. Three months ago the state fired off a terse memo to its neighbor, Wisconsin, warning that plans to pipe Lake Michigan water outside the region's natural borders to meet the growing needs of thirsty communities like New Berlin ran afoul of Great Lakes law.

Now its permitting multinational corporations to pump fresh groundwater - the lifeblood of majestic water bodies like Lake Michigan - and sell it where ever the market demands in exchange for a few dozen jobs and some tax revenue? That two-faced approach to managing the region's shared water resources seeds conflict, not cooperation, in the campaign to promote sustainable stewardship of the world's largest freshwater cathedral.

State of the Region

All around the Great Lakes it's the same song: Time to change business as usual and transform the Rust Belt into the Blue Belt.

The Empire State's new Governor Eliot Spitzer uses his 2007 State of the State speech to call for 'One New York.'

Gov. Tim Pawlenty lays out a 'New Path' for Minnesota in his 2007 Inaugural Address.

In her 2007 Inaugural Address, Gov. Jennifer Granholm says "we must apply ourselves fearlessly to build the Next Michigan."

Ohio Governor-elect Ted Strickland took the oath of office earlier this morning. And Gov. Rod Blagojevich will Celebrate Illinois and get sworn in for a second term tonight.

The elected leaders quote variously from Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King. But behind the catchy slogans, within the lofty oratory of their indivdual speeches, we find a universe of common themes and policy proposals that all share a single goal: reverse the decades-long decline and shape a new destiny for the Great Lakes region in the 21st century.

So what are the common themes? Reclaim the spirit of innovation to generate good jobs. Deliver modern and affordable education and health care to the people. Reinvest in crumbling infrastructure like cities, transportation, and waterways. And restore honesty, civility, and fiscal sanity - those most basic of Midwest values - in public life.

"No matter how great the challenge - no matter how impossible the odds - our destiny will never be a path to follow, but always a trail to blaze," said Gov. Spitzer, in his 2007 Inagural Address.