With good reason: Such companies -- building, marketing, and servicing the next-gen clean-energy, alternative-fuels, sustainable mobility, and advanced materials companies -- represent highly desirable neighbors. They employ technical and other skilled workers, often have blue-sky growth potential, tend to be less-polluting than other industrial companies, and are engaged in the highly regarded task of helping build a greener economy. Not only do they create jobs, build local economies, and generate tax revenue, they also create good P.R. for their host cities and regions.
And so mayors and governors (if not presidents) have become increasingly aggressive in courting clean-tech companies.
But how well are they doing? Measures of success to date have been largely anecdotal -- there aren't yet any economic metrics I know of that track clean-tech's region-by-region economic impact. But some new research by SustainLane Government, which helps state and local agencies track best practices, rates the top five U.S. cities for clean technology. It assessed each region's start-up or advanced-stage venture capital and investor network access; academic or federal research lab collaboration; and active state or local government participation (field testing, prototyping, and pilot programs) and incentives.
Who rated well? The results weren't entirely surprising to those of us who've been tracking the fast-growing clean-tech sector, but it still offers a useful baseline of where the action is. The top five include Austin, Texas, home to a robust clean-energy incubator; San Jose, Calif., which also boasts an incubator and is on the cusp of Silicon Valley, where venture capitalists are pouring tens of millions into clean-tech companies; Berkeley, Calif., which just landed a $500 million biofuels research lab; Pasadena, Calif., home of Caltech, IdeaLab, and other incubators of clean-tech companies; and the greater Boston area, the second-biggest hotbed of clean-tech VC activity, as well as the home of MIT and other great institutions.
Runners up included San Francisco, New York, Seattle, San Diego, and Houston.
I wasn't surprised that the San Francisco Bay Area was so well represented, but was curious why the Pacific Northwest didn't make the list. I've been watching a host of clean-tech firms spring up around Portland and Seattle, including some big biofuel companies. "Seattle was close," Warren Karlenzig, SustainLane's Chief Strategy Officer, who wrote the report, told me this week. He mentioned Seattle Biofuels and the 2.5 percent 2008 statewide mandate for biodiesel as drivers for future growth in alt fuels. The Seattle area also has Prosperity Partnership through Puget Sound and Portland's Development Commission is investigating clean tech-potential. "There is, however, currently a lack of significant city involvement in the Northwest, with universities and federal research laboratories in clean tech," he noted, though acknowledging that this is starting to change.
"The key ingredients came down to money, brains, networking opportunities, and practical testing opportunities," said Karlenzig. It was also the presence of venture networks for funding and networking, top-rated university or federal research labs involved in clean-tech collaboration, and engineering knowledge networks, he said.
But it's more than that, as my Clean Edge team found out a couple years ago, when we helped San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom understand what it would take for his city to become a clean-tech magnet. We came up with ten recommendations for the mayor, most of which are transferable to other cities and regions. (Over the past two years, San Francisco has adopted nearly all ten of these, including creation of a Clean-tech Advisory Council, on which I sit.) You can view the 2004 recommendations here, along with a 2005 subsequent progress report here.
It's a model worth considering by any city, state, or region seeking to exploit the new clean-tech opportunities -- and, perhaps, make SustainLane's leadership list in the future.