Northeast Ohio’s Place in the Advanced Energy Universe

by Richard T. Stuebi

On September 1, the Fund for Our Economic Future – a collaboration of philanthropic organizations in Northeast Ohio – approved a $1.7 million grant to launch a new advanced energy initiative at NorTech, whose mission is technology-based economic development for the region.

This new initiative (stay tuned for a sexy name, to be announced soon!) will become the “center of gravity” or “focal point” for all things advanced energy in the 21 counties of Northeast Ohio. It will also play meaningful roles in coordinating or leading large-scale multi-constituency projects that offer the potential for transformational economic impact in the region.

Representing the Cleveland Foundation, I have worked with NorTech leadership for nearly a year to develop the plan for the initiative, and will be lent to NorTech by the Foundation to serve as a Principal for the initiative.

Although I am pleased with the successes achieved since I joined the Foundation to lead its advanced energy work in March 2006, I am joining this new initiative with enthusiasm, as I am optimistic that the broad reach, resources and support afforded by NorTech will enable an even greater degree of impact.

Given limited resources, we will be unable to pursue an unbounded agenda. Rather, we must remain focused, building on our strengths (which are substantial), and avoiding “me-too” strategies just because other areas are gaining good traction in attractive sectors.

We know we’re joining an already active game: to illustrate, look at the organizations emplaced in Michigan (NextEnergy) and New York (STEP: Saratoga Technology + Energy Park) to pursue similar missions for regional economic development via advanced energy technologies. Indeed, instead of viewing the others as competitors to whom we might “lose”, we must view our colleagues elsewhere as potential collaborators, employing a “win-win” mentality, because we’re all on the same planet together.

I am more confident than ever that Cleveland and Northeast Ohio can be a major player in the advanced energy economy of the future. Even now, we are already a globally-significant factor in fuel cell R&D, wind energy manufacturing, and efficient lighting technologies. Not only can we extend and deepen these clusters, but we have already-extant seeds and shoots in other sectors – such as waste-to-energy, energy storage, alternative fuels, advanced nuclear designs, and power “informatics” (sensors, controls and intelligence) – that can serve as the nuclei for new clusters.

I thank the Fund for Our Economic Future for its significant grant to launch this important new initiative, NorTech for its recognition that advanced energy must become one of the key technological legs for the revitalization of the Northeast Ohio economy, and the Cleveland Foundation for its overall leadership in putting advanced energy on the region’s map of consciousness. All of us in Northeast Ohio – and elsewhere – should give similar thanks.

Northeast Ohio may not, yet, be a world-leader in advanced energy. But at least we’ve got a growing number of oars in the water, paddling with increasing effectiveness in the same direction as the leaders, with whom we eagerly seek to partner.

Richard T. Stuebi is the Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at the Cleveland Foundation, and is also a Managing Director at Early Stage Partners.