Cutting Carbon Is All That Matters

It was a solid one-two punch.

On Wednesday of this week a coalition of scientists and environmentalists released a report revealing that climate change threatens to inflame all that ails the Great Lakes ecosystem, dropping water levels lower, skewing fish and wildlife habitat, stirring up stronger storms that overflow outdated sewers and increase water pollution. The region's credible experts, in fact, agree the changes already are underway.

Then, on Thursday, the prestigious Brookings Institution issued a report revealing vital evidence about the geography of carbon emissions - a key accelerant of climate change - from the nation's 100 largest metro areas. Greater Great Lakes cities such as Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Toledo, Columbus, Madison, and Lansing log some of the highest emmissions per capita from residential and transportation sources. Rochester, Chicago, and Buffalo log some of the lowest in the nation, but can, must, and will do better.

So, thanks to Brookings, we know more about where the big sources of carbon pollution are located and we have good baseline evidence from which to gauge future progress. And thanks to the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes coalition we have a deeper understanding of what's at risk if we fail to act. And it's already clear we know a great deal about how to solve the problem - aggressively promote energy innovation, ramp up invest in modern public transportation, encourage urban revitalization and density, to name a few.

Clearly the charge of my generation - I'm 33 - is to confront the naysayers, push them to the sidelines, and put the solutions swiftly into play. Smart public policies and spending decisions can help the Great Lakes, I believe, translate these truly ominous threats into real opportunities. By reinvigorating and refocusing its innovative talent and industrial might, the mega region can position itself to help lead the globe out of this mess and turn a buck doing it. Frankly, what else matters if the knock-out blows of climate disruption threaten to plunge the world into chaos.

Regional Real Estate Promises ROI

Despite the housing crisis, job losses, factory closings, and fear of change, the greater Great Lakes region is the place to buy real estate these days.

The Mega Midwest is home to five of the top 10 fastest growing markets in the United States, according to Money Magazine.

Here's the list:

1. McAllen, TX
2. Rochester, NY
3. Birmingham, AL
4. Syracuse, NY
5. Buffalo/Niagara, NY
6. New Orleans, LA
7. Scranton, PA
8. Grand Rapids, MI
9. Baton Rouge, LA
10. El Paso, TX.

The New Economy of Water

More and more entrepreneurial minds are discovering that, in an age that prizes and rewards information and innovation, inventing new ways to better manage, clean, and conserve fresh water likely will work to generate new economic opportunity.

I first came across the idea of a private sector-led effort to establish a pioneering - and hopefully profitable - hub of water research in the Great Lakes region in 2002 when I met Tom Newhof. At the time, Mr. Newhof, president of the consulting firm Prein and Newhof, was working to transform a historic water treatment plant in downtown Grand Rapids into the Global Enterprise for Water Technology.

I wrote about Mr. Newhof's campaign in 2004. But the effort ultimately was unsuccessful due to a lack of venture capital and, in my view, vision and imagination on the part of a risk averse business community.

In recent years, similiar ideas have popped up in Detroit, Milwaukee, and Washington D.C, as well as Arizona and New Mexico.

Now it seems Bay City, MI is the latest community to recognize that a worldwide market for new knowledge and expertise to improve water resource management clearly exists

''This is a race,'' Ziggy Kozicki, former assistant dean at Davenport University, recently told the Bay City Times. ''Someone in the Great Lakes region is going to establish a center where all of this takes place.''

Where Innovation is Inevitable

Like most states on the American side of the Great Lakes, Ontario maintains your typical economic development agency. Expectedly, it works to lure companies, attract investment, generate jobs, and otherwise pump up the province's prospects for growth. One major distinction from similiar operations in the U.S. seems to be that those Canadians spell labor with a 'u.' As in, we have a strong labour force.

But the province, unlike most states, also staffs a Ministry of Innovation. And that suggests government leaders there embrace the notion that competing in the 21st century requires organizations, strategies, and ways of thinking that are fundamentally different from those deployed in the Industrial Era.

Think of Orwell's Ministry of Truth, where old poems are rewritten to represent the new ideology. Radically different moves and language are essential to the rise of any transformative regime, good or bad.

Clearly the region's old institutions have lost traction in the modern era considering the decades of job loss, budget breakdowns, and other troubling trends.

So, in a knowledge economy where big bold ideas seem to be the lucrative new raw materials, what better public platform to establish than a Ministry of Research and Innovation. What better post to establish than Minister of Innovation.

At a time when traditional economic development missions feverishly try to adapt tax cuts, job training programs, and corporate relocation packages, and hand pick pet industries like life science, energy innovation, or homeland security, at least a segment of Ontario governance seems to be pursuing a much more systemic, holistic, and distinguishing approach.

Here's why the Ministry of Innovation was established, according to the agency website:

"Places that invest in innovation, that stroke the creativity of people, that market their ideas most effectively will become the home to the most rewarding jobs, to the strongest economies and to the best quality of life. We want Ontario to be that place where innovation is inevitable.

"The Ministry of Research and Innovation was created to focus on the government’s commitment to innovation as the driver of growth across all sectors of the economy."

No Risk in Reinvestment

So, the experts from Michigan State University head to the state Capitol today to sponsor a public forum that asks 'Is Michigan's infrastructure at risk?'

The answer to that question, of course, is a resounding 'yes.' But the issue is not limited to Michigan. It's a super regional Great Lakes problem, which means it's a national problem.

The roads and highways obviously are crumbling. The bridges are rusting. Some, tragically, have collapsed. The schools are underfunded. The airports are increasingly expensive and inconvenient. The IT is limited, unless you're at Starbucks. There's really no substantial modern public transit to speak of, except in isolated spots like Chicago, Minneapolis, and maybe Cleveland. And the sewers are overflowing and bursting onto the Great Lakes.

More than ever, the region and the nation needs an aggressive strategy to invest in itself. Not to spend money blowing up and rebuilding nations halfway around the world.

To what extent is our infrastructure at risk? Or, put another way, how mainstream is the idea of literally rebuilding America?

The conservative Detroit News - the voice of the auto industry - today calls for as much as a 50 cent raise in the gas tax "to finally answer our responsibility to the national and state infrastructure."

"Because of decades of neglect," the op-ed reports, "keeping up with [road] repairs and building needed new capacity will cost an estimated $320 billion a year. Currently, the 18-cent federal gasoline tax raises roughly $85 billion."

Obama Sharpening the Michigan Message

In a speech to the Detroit Economic Club one year ago this month, presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama had this to say to the Motor City....

"I know these are difficult times for automakers, and I know that not all of the industry's problems are of its own making. But we have to be honest about how we arrived at this point."

"For years," the senator said, "while foreign competitors were investing in more fuel-efficient technology for their vehicles, American automakers were spending their time investing in bigger, faster cars. And whenever an attempt was made to raise our fuel efficiency standards, the auto companies would lobby furiously against it, spending millions to prevent the very reform that could've saved their industry. Even as they've shed thousands of jobs and billions in profits over the last few years, they've continued to reward failure with lucrative bonuses for CEOs."

"The consequences of these choices are now clear. While our fuel standards haven't moved from 27.5 miles per gallon in two decades, both China and Japan have surpassed us, with Japanese cars now getting an average of 45 miles to the gallon. And as the global demand for fuel-efficient and hybrid cars have skyrocketed, it's foreign competitors who are filling the orders."

On Meet the Press earlier this month, the senator had this to say to host Tim Russert...

"Detroit ended up making investments in SUVs and large trucks because that's where they perceived a competitive advantage and that's where they felt they could make the most profit," the senator said.

"I think it was a mistake for them not to plan earlier. Now we're seeing a huge growth in fuel-efficient cars that is benefitting the Japanese automakers, and Detroit is getting pounded some more. And I think that we can make those cars here in the United States."

Stumping in Michigan - and Detroit - this week, the senator spoke with a less confrontational tone...

"We want the strongest possible auto industry," Sen. Obama said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press. "But unless we change some of how we do business, we won't be competitive in the global marketplace."

And raised the potential for partnership....

"The auto industry is on the move but they can't do it alone," Sen. Obama said yesterday according to Gongwer News Service. "They need a partner in the White House and when I am in the White House they will have a partner."

Detroit's Disdain for History

Old Tiger Stadium in the Corktown neighborhood isn't the only incredibly meaningful historic structure that's contributing to the City of Detroit's decline rather than powering its renaissance.

It's one of many.

Henry Ford's pioneering car factory, for instance, lies in ruins just a short drive from the crumbling ball park. The facility once stood as a symbol of American - and Michigan - strength and innovation.

Today the brick walls are tagged with graffiti and the windows are broken and boarded. Boxes are stored inside. But the sign out front says the place should be a museum.

"Home of the Model T," it reads. "Here at his Highland Park Plant Henry Ford in 1913 began the mass production of automobiles on a moving assembly line. By 1915 Ford built a million Model T's. In 1925 over 9,000 were assembled in a single day. Mass production soon moved from here to all phases of American industry and set the pattern of abundance for 20th century living."

The building today, like once vibrant Tiger Stadium, represents a very different extreme: the poverty of leadership, pride in place, and an ability to make things happen.

“This is an old city," Timothy J. McKay, executive director of the Greater Corktown Development Corporation, told the New York Times. "But history here is discounted by a lot of people.”

Wire to Wire Week with World's Wind Leader

On Monday May 5 Vestas Wind Systems fired off a terse letter to Michigan bemoaning the lack of courage and umph in the state's proposed renewable energy law. Essentially, Vestas said 'we want to make next generation energy technology in your stumbling, unemployed state but your policy isn't drawing us in."

Today, the company announced plans to construct the world's largest wind-turbine-tower manufacturing plant in.....drum roll.....Colorado.

The move will leverage approximately $250 million in new investment and employ 400 people by the end of 2010, according to the report in the Denver Post.

"This definitely helps create the cluster effect in Colorado," Craig Cox, executive director of the Interwest Energy Alliance, told the Post. "Vestas is one of the biggest names in wind, and certainly other supplier companies will want to locate closer to the market and closer to other manufacturing companies like Vestas."

Culture Change Comes to C-Town

What's the quickest way to change an entrenched culture that clings to the past, fears the future, and is hesitant to change no matter how many young people, jobs, or good ideas leave? Welcome new people. Signs of the shift in Cleveland....

"I see a lot more Asians on the street than I used to, especially Asian-Indians," Alyssa Naragon told the Plains Dealer.

The report reveals that Ohio lost about 24,000 white people from 2000-2007. But a surge in minority populations - most notably a 32 percent boom in Asians, one of the more educated demographics in America - led to an overall gain of 102,000 new residents in the state.

Wind Proponents Say MI Proposal is Hot Air

Legislation to promote energy innovation now under consideration in the Michigan Senate will do little to stimulate wind power production in the state, could actually retard industry growth, and should be squashed if it reaches the governor's desk in its current form, according to a group of the nation's leading wind power authorities.

The concerns, outlined in a May 6, 2008 letter the American Wind Energy Association sent to Governor Jennifer Granholm, is the first direct public opposition to a package of legislation designed to spur energy innovation passed by the Michigan House of Representatives in mid-April.

Michigan, once an innovative industrial powerhouse, has done little but slash jobs, shudder factories, and cede population for three decades. But the state strives to organize much of its economic recovery plan around the booming global renewable energy industry.

The Great Lakes region's blowing wind resources have the potential to power hundreds of thousands of homes with clean energy, stimulate $80 billion in new economic activity, and generate 300,000 jobs, according to the United States Department of Energy.

Most agree Michigan, one of the windier states in the region, can capture a significant share of that market with the proper policy and spending strategy.

The bills recently passed by House lawmakers would, among other things, require utilities to satisfy 10 percent of energy demand with renewable sources like wind and solar by 2015.

Environmentalists rushed to support the legislation.

Traditional business leaders are keeping a watchful eye on the proposals as they head to the Senate.

But the nation's leading wind power advocates, including Vestas, the world's largest wind turbine manufacturer, and Rich Vander Veen, president of Michigan-based Mackinaw Power, say the proposal fails to establish a meaningful market for wind energy. The proposal, as passed, does not effectively incentivize wind power production; contains weak bench marks for renewable energy production; and could potentially undermine the wind industry in Michigan

“The House legislation, as a package, cannot accurately be described as a renewable energy standard, and the public should not expect economic benefits to result from the package," the letter states. "To avoid unwarranted market and public confusion created by opaque legislation, our industry asks for your assurance of a veto should such legislation reach your desk."

Fill 'er Up with Nonsense

The Guy household keeps two gas guzzling trucks - one Ford, one GMC - in the driveway. But we don't support rolling back any fuel taxes, as Senators John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and a small band of shortsighted pseudo-leaders now propose. If anything, fuel taxes should go up.

That could not only encourage conservation, it would also generate a windfall of public money for investment in American energy innovation, modern mass transit systems, and basic road, highway, and bridge maintenance. Rather invest in those basic elements of civilized society over the need for new tires and alignments the pot holes raise for the household fleet because cities and states can't afford to repair roads.

Responsible conservatives understand this reality, as the right-leaning Grand Rapids Press reminded us yesterday.

But "the people need relief," says the political leadership in New York.

And a gas tax holiday would encourage tourism and boating, according to elected officials in Michigan.

Aspirants for public office in Indiana are actually running on the idea.

Meanwhile, a formidable chorus of independent-minded leaders and analysts is pushing back with common sense.

"It's a quick fix for people who believe cheap gas is their birthright," Tom Kloza, chief analyst at an oil research firm told CNN Money. "It's not a prudent thing to do."

"Somewhere down the road you have to use less," Kloza added. "As painful as it might be, higher prices do sway behavior toward a more energy disciplined America."