Gov. Rendell's Ticking Energy Clock

There's remarkable consensus among Great Lakes governors that energy innovation is a strategic key to growing the region's economy, sustaining its ecology, and safeguarding people's health in the 21st century. But certain governors have pet secondary messages that aim to sideline the skeptics, unify broader support, and build the civic will for bold action. And one governor in particular seems to speak with a competitive spirit that's constantly driving people to think bigger and work harder.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty regularly seizes on the potential to strengthen national security with homegrown American energy. "We must help keep America from becoming an energy hostage to hostile and unreliable leaders like Hugo Chavez, Vladimir Putin, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad," Pawlenty said in his 2008 State of the State Address.

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle has some smart sound bites on the anti-terrorism angle, too. "We should depend more on the Midwest and less on the Mideast," he said in his 2008 State Address. But he also drills down on the climate change angle. "Temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere have reached their warmest point in over two thousand years," he said. "Our addiction to foreign oil is compromising our national security, paralyzing our economy, and melting the polar ice caps."

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm links her energy initiatives with national security and global warming, too. "Any time you pick up a newspaper from here on out and see the terms 'climate change' or 'global warming,' just think: jobs for Michigan,” she said in her 2008 State Address. But she repeatedly makes the case that growing the modern energy industry is essential to prop up her state's ability to generate new job opportunities. "We will win these jobs for Michigan and replace the lost manufacturing jobs with a whole new, growing sector."

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has grabbed all the above handles on the issue at one time or another. But it's the sense of urgency that he brings to the debate perhaps more consistently and forcefully than any head of state in the region. America and the greater Great Lakes now operates amidst fierce global competition, he always seems to remind us. Decisive action is of the essence.

"Right now there's a race out there," Gov. Rendell said earlier this week after representing the National Governors Association at the White House. "There's about a five-year window to determine which country is going to be the country that captures the new ideas and the new green technologies."

Update: And apparently that go-go-go attitude is contagious. I just picked the Detroit News up off the driveway and found a front page story in which Gov. Granholm, fresh off spending several days talking with energy experts in D.C., barks at the Michigan Legislature to hurry up and pass a modern policy to support renewables. "This is the fastest way we can create jobs," Granholm says.

Pre-Presidential Pandering in Ohio

Apparently it's news that the presidential candidates are rehashing the tired NAFTA debate in an all-too-familiar strategy to secure the blue collar vote in Ohio's March 4 primary.

But the opinion among more future-oriented thought leaders is that the next President of the United States would do better by the Rust Belt - and the nation as a whole - with practical ideas to help the region evolve and compete in the global economy. Not fight it.

That requires a bold strategy to rebuild cities torn apart by a century of government approved pollution, highway construction, and sprawl. Yet not one candidate actively promotes an agenda to modernize urban areas, the epicenter of culture and commerce in the 21st century.

It means restoring incredibly degraded but globally unique environmental assets, particularly waterways, in an effort to elevate a distinct quality of place and attract talented workers. Yet not one candidate actively promotes the major public works proposal to restore the Great Lakes ecosystem now languishing in Congress.

And competing successfully in the global marketplace - particularly for states like Ohio and Michigan - demands an incredible cultural shift in how working people value education. Yet the candidates, at least when campaigning in the Great Lakes, have yet to seize in any compelling and consistent way on the importance of "innovation" in the knowledge economy.

Which brings us to the real story now emerging. The economy is the number one priority in the Midwest. But the leading candidates for President continue to lack a detailed, comprehensive, and transformative strategy to return prosperity to America's Heartland. Simply fix NAFTA, they want voters here to believe, sprinkle in a little health care and some rebates for college tuition, and everything will be alright.

The challenge, in reality, is much more complex and deserves more genuine and candid debate.

America's Go Green Imperative

Award-winning author and New York Times Foreign Affairs Columnist Thomas Friedman spoke earlier today with the National Governors Association. The NGA is led these days by Great Lakes Governors Tim Pawlenty and Ed Rendell, of Minnesota and Pennsylvania respectively, both of whom have staked out energy innovation agendas that rank among the most aggressive in the nation.

In his presentation, Friedman relayed the timely story of talking with Roger Ramalinga, a prominent business leader in India, about the incredible economic opportunity the clean technology revolution now presents to the world. Here are excerpts of Ramalinga's comments, as delivered by Friedman:

"Ultimately the rewards for those companies, countries, and individuals who put themselves at the forefront of the energy technology - the ET - revolution, their rewards will not be incremental. They will be transformational and dramatic. There will be quantum jumps in leap frogging opportunities. So the rewards to the U.S. from making the world green would not be incremental. They would be orders of magnitude higher. And the payback would not be anywhere as long as anyone assumes."

"But if America doesn't seize this opportunity, India, China, and others eventually will. Their solutions will not be the best because they will not be coming at it from the frontier of scientific and technological knowledge. They will be alot better, though, than nothing. They won't do it as well. It won't scale it as quickly. But it will happen. And once they get going the replication process will take place every six months and America will not have a place in it. You will be watching. You will not derive the maximum benefits of having been the architect."

"If you do take the lead, the world will be cueing up at your counter. But to take the lead we can not view this as some new tax like any other. If you view green as a cost it is a failure. If you view it as an ordinary investment it is a failure. If you view it as an extraordinary investment that will bring transformational rewards and dramatic benefits and therefore a huge opportunity you will find success."

Detroit's Space Race

These numbers below from Detroit are at least one year old. But the basic organization of urban space remains essentially unchanged.

The challenge of transforming the Motor City to compete in a world that rewards metro centers where walking, biking, and public transit are at least as convenient as driving apparently rivals that of putting a man on the moon. Here's the data to prove it.

Sixty percent of the space in Detroit - more than 21 million square feet - is dedicated to the automobile via streets, highways, and parking lots.

Thirty-six percent of the city's space - nearly 13 million square feet - is dedicated to buildings where people actually live and work and the pedestrian realm.

Four percent - approximately 1.6 million sq. ft. - is dedicated to parks and other so-called non-motorized uses.

A Template for Change in C-Town

Art and advanced technology. Pedestrian friendly streetscapes. Higher education and improved neighborhood schools. Fresh urban housing and retail. Mass transit. Inviting public space.

All the basic elements of a forward-thinking development strategy apparently are coming together in a multi-billion dollar effort to transform Cleveland's University Circle into a thriving metropolitan center. The overarching goal is to improve the region's ability to attract and retain knowledge workers and prosper in the 21st century.

The project is also another compelling example of how the creative thinking and action to reverse the economic, environmental, and cultural decline of the greater Great Lakes region is happening at the local level. Not in state capitals or Washington, D.C circles.

People "tend to think of it as a patchwork of destinations, hospitals and education centers," Chris Ronayne, president of University Circle Inc. and Cleveland's former planning director for told the Plains Dealer. "They tend not to think of it as a place. It doesn't have the feel of a place you just amble around in," said Ronayne. "That's what we aspire for it to be."

Breaking Michigan's Circle Jerk

I'm always grumpy after a presentation by Lou Glazer, the sharp-minded, even-keeled president of Michigan Future, Inc.

Not because Glazer and his partner, the University of Michigan researcher Donald Grimes, make a convincing case that Michigan needs to get younger, smarter, and less dependent on low-skill manufacturing to prosper in the 21st century. The thesis, in my view, is right on the mark.

What's frustrating is that leaders in Michigan, sleep walking through the state's biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, have known and ignored those ideas for decades.

Read the recent column by Rick Haglund, Booth Newspapers' Michigan business reporter. Way back in November 1984, Haglund reminds us, government officials released The Path to Prosperity report which said Michigan must elevate educational attainment, rediscover its entreprenuerial spirit, and get more strategic with economic development spending.

That's essentially what Glazer and Grimes recommended yesterday at a briefing on the progress of the state's transition toward a knowledge economy. In other words, Michigan has been running around in circles hesitating to act on basic solutions for more than two decades now while budgets collapse, people lose their jobs, and the pace of global change only accelerates.

Glazer and Grimes also said - and this is increasingly obvious given the intractable problems and frozen politics in the state - nothing less than a cultural revolution is required to get the state back on track.

In a new economy that rewards learning and innovation, too many people and elected officials in Michigan still undervalue a college education and entreprenuership. Half the parents in the state, Glazer said, believe higher education is not important to their kids' future.

At a time when diversity keys creativity and competitiveness, Michigan remains among the most segregated states in the Union.

As college grads and knowledge workers flock to vibrant urban regions like San Jose, Denver, and Boston, Michigan continues to resist an aggressive strategy that targets state economic development spending to accelerate the revitalization of its Rust Belt cities

Heck, we even still smoke cigarettes in the public house.

What's more, the current leadership not only fails to recognize and respond to the changing world, they're making choices all but guaranteed to keep the state squarely on the path to disaster and decline.

"Quality of place and higher education, particularly central cities with major research universities, are essential public investment priorities," Glazer said. "The interesting thing is that over the last decade the two areas of the state budget that have been cut the most: revenue sharing [to cities] and higher education. If you want to grow a knowledge economy that's not smart."

"New leadership - both public and business - is most important," he added.

Defending Carty Finkbeiner

Carty Finkbeiner is the latest hard working American to get tripped up by this nation's backward war effort.

Finkbeiner, the Mayor of the City of Toledo, Ohio, has spent the past several years trying to restore his city's pride and prosperity by sprucing up riverfront parks, promoting alternative energy and, often times in direct contradiction to the gritty sights on-the-ground, selling his community as an asipiring 21st century metropolis rather than just another frail front line on the nation's post-industrial Rust Belt battlefield.

The last thing he needed, I imagine, was a bunch of marines wanting to stage war games, run around town, and shoot off guns. But that's exactly what he got last week when a couple hundred members of Company A 1st Batallion came to town to simulate urban warfare in a vacant downtown building. The mayor, not surprisingly, called the exercise off.

"No matter how much I respect, love, and appreciate the military, there are better places to conduct military planning and staging sessions than the central business district," Mayor Finkbeiner told The Toledo Blade.

The decision continues to trigger fierce local and national criticism. Some called the incident "disgraceful" and vowed to support the war not the mayor. Veteran groups are livid. The City Commission, already back pedaling with gift certificates to entice reservists back to local businesses, is considering a formal apology.

Few deny the utterly important need for military training. But there is an appropriate time and an appropriate place. During business hours in a city when people are working and kids are at school does not fit that criteria without clever planning and marketing.

I've said before that sections of Great Lakes cities like Detroit, Buffalo, and Toledo bear a striking resemblance to the war torn images we're shown from Baghdad. Those comments have always been a tongue-in-cheek way to make the case that these urban areas continue to experience a disproportional level of disinvestment and neglect. And at a time no less when the research says that vibrant cities are key to economic success in the Digital Age.

But actually playing Army in a place like Toledo, even if they are using blanks, somehow gives that comparison a whole new level of strength and reality. It confirms, in a way, that the conditions in the city mimic those in blown out Tikrit or Basrah. And it seems like exactly the wrong scene to set, and message to send, in a city trying to do everything in its power to rebuild its image as an inviting place to live and work.

Looking at the dust up that way, the United States Marine Corps. might consider an apology for suggesting Toledo is the closest thing in America that resembles the battlefield in the nation's Mid East theatre of war. Yet Finkbeiner remains under fire for his decision to abort the training exercise, forced to defend his patriotism.

Meanwhile, on a related note, the petro-dependent auto establishment continues to fight a national policy to aid the war effort by promoting energy innovation, reducing dependence on foreign oil, and strengthening the nation's standing abroad. Where's the public outrage over that short-sighted position? Where, I wonder, is the veteran protest?

Toledo, by the way, is no stranger to helping build up America's defenses. In the 1940's, the city innovated and mass produced the Jeep, which helped the nation win WWII.

What's in a Nickname

How important is erasing the Rust Belt stigma and staking claim to a new brand of life in the Great Lakes region?

International Falls, MN, which sits at the western end of frigid Lake Superior, went to the mat in a legal fight with the Colorado ski town of Fraser for the official title of 'Icebox of the Nation.'

The northern Minnesota town won the lawsuit end of last week and, fittingly, temperatures plunged to 40 below.

"I ran over to the attorney's office and kissed the certificate [granting the trademark]," International Falls Mayor Shawn Mason told the media.

"We're just thrilled the title has been confirmed," added City Administrator Rod Otterness. "If Fraser wants to call itself the Icebox of Colorado, we have no problem."

Some call the victory irrelevant. But the title will make for good T-shirts. And it certainly can't hurt in a post-industrial economy where tourism and outdoor recreation are increasingly lucrative and important.

Clinton's Conservative Car Contest

Campaigning in the State of Washington, almost as far away from Detroit as she could be while still standing on American soil, Senator Hillary Clinton today called for a "contest" to see who can develop the most advanced fuel efficient automobile.

"The internal combustion engine we have today is basically the same thing that was put in the Model T," the Senator said. "It's just a little supped up."

That's an exagerration. And something of a slap in the face to all that Detroit and Michigan have done for the country.

But, at the same time, the Senator''s comments carried a legit point. The lull in innovation in the Midwest, particularly on the automotive assembly line, now hampers the nation's ability to evolve the economy, safeguard the environment, and chart a more sustainable course. We need a modern day Henry Ford.

The question is whether Sen. Clinton will make that case, and offer serious solutions over games, while campaigning in the Heartland.

The Power of Money

Five Great Lakes governors have delivered their annual State of the State Address so far.

Three of them announced major plans to rebuild their economies with the booming industry of energy innovation.

Two backed up their words with money.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland is staring down a projected $700 million shortfall. Still he announced a plan to invest $250 million in advanced and renewable energies, including solar, wind, and clean coal.

"We have a base of manufacturers and expertise in Ohio that, if supported, can lead the nation," Gov. Strickland said.

In an effort to make his state the "world leader in renewable energy and homegrown power," Gov. Jim Doyle used his annual speech to launch the Wisconsin Energy Independence Fund. He announced a $150 million investment over 10 years to "help our businesses, our farmers, our foresters, and our manufacturers produce and promote renewable energy." The plan also calls for an additional $95 million over the next 18 months to promote energy efficiency.

"Our addiction to foreign oil is compromising our national security, paralyzing our economy, and melting the polar ice caps," the governor said. "We should depend more on the Midwest and less on the Mideast."

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm also said her state, too, has all the right stuff to seize the lucrative energy economy. Worldclass manufacturing capacity. Skilled workers. And globally connected shipping lanes. She urged the state Legislature to pass a policy requiring 10 percent of the state's electricity to come from renewable sources by 2015.

Yet despite announcing a $1 billion infrastructure improvement campaign, she stopped short of telling entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and citizens how much funding her adminstration would commit to the new energy economy.

"If we do this right," Gov. Granholm said, "Michigan can be the alternative energy capital of North America, and create thousands and thousands of jobs."

Tax Cuts Sure, But What About Gary Gov. Daniels?

As if the City of Gary - and all its incredible problems and opportunities - simply didn't exist, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels recently delivered a breezy 2008 State of the State Address trumpeting just how good life apparently is at the Crossroads of America.

Unemployment is down. Investment and job creation up. Government is more nimble, fiscally prudent, and responsive. The State of Indiana is sitting on a big budget surplus. It now ranks favorably - both nationally and regionally - across several measures of economic competitiveness. And even the line at the BMV moves faster.

The next order of business, the governor said after deriding the fiscal troubles of neighboring Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois, is the largest tax cut in state history.

"My fondest hope for this era in which we live is that we are becoming a braver Indiana," the governor said in his closing statement. "Unafraid of competition, unafraid of new ideas, unafraid of change. And always brave in the attempt to take long steps for big goals like fairness, ownership, and economic security, goals that property tax reduction would serve."

But Gov. Daniels wasn't brave enough to talk about Gary, the black eye of Lake Michigan. He also chose not to layout an agenda that aims to see that city, Indiana's fifth largest, share in the state's apparently historic prosperity.

More investment than ever is pouring into the state, according to the governor, yet downtown Gary -like parts of Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and several other Great Lakes cities - looks like the pictures beamed back to the nightly news from Baghdad.

Yet few people seem to care. Steel and scorched Earth is all we've known about Gary for 100 years. So why should the next 100 be any different. Let's just ignore it.

Meanwhile, pile after pile of research argues that vibrant cities - particularly those with clean accessible waterfronts like the one Gary has buried beneath the slurry - enjoy the upper hand in what's poised to be the most prosperous era the world has ever known.

Back to the Future of Transportation

The public transportation movement in Michigan, it seems, got off on the wrong foot. Central Railroad service was launched in the state with dinner, drinks, and dancing. But the locomotive broke down on the return trip. Horses, Michigan History Magazine tells us, pulled everybody - including Governor Mason - back to Detroit. No wonder innovators like Henry Ford mettled with newer, faster, and more reliable ways to get around.

But that was in February 1838. One hundred and seventy years later new technologies to transport people en masse are more important than ever. Increasing traffic congestion, rising gas prices, and the growing financial burden of car ownership. Mounting concerns about climate change, sprawl, and the environment. The urgent need to revitalize Midwest cities, attract talented workers, and grow the economy. And lifestyle changes that favor walking, biking, and healthy living.

The research on any number of fronts suggests Michigan - like all Great Lakes states - must rekindle its innovative spirit and continue striving for a superior system of transportation choices that save communities and citizens time, money, resources, and stress. Reviving the Central Railroad Station in downtown Detroit, once a major hub of American travel and commuting, would be a smart place to start.


Nearly one third of the people in Michigan do not understand what the heck 'renewable energy' is. But they want more of it. That's the result of a new study published by Michigan State University.

The key findings of the 2007 Energy Consumer Survey include:

  • 92% of residents are concerned about the cost of energy and its effect on the household budget.
  • More than 40% of residents are considering home improvements to reduce energy costs.
  • The majority of residents support government action to stimulate the development and use of renewable and alternative energy sources.
  • Michigan residents "overwhelmingly believe" the planet's climate is warming and that's a major problem.
For those 3+ million Michigananders scratching their heads, the diagram at right illustrates the components of a turbine turned by the wind to generate renewable energy. The video posted yesterday - see below - features a black chunk of coal, a nonrenewable energy source.