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States vie to attract clean-tech industries

California and Massachusetts have the edge, but at least half of US states have entered the race.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 11, 2008

It's big: A wind turbine blade was unveiled last month during the opening of the Vestas blade factory in Windsor, Colo. The manufacturing plant is the company's first in the US.

Jack Dempsey/AP


On the road to becoming governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick visited Evergreen Solar in Marlborough, a campaign stop that at the time seemed more of a nod to environmental stewardship than part of a greater economic policy. But more than two years later, the solar-cell manufacturer has demonstrated the explosive potential of ecoindustry, announcing plans this week to triple its Massachusetts workforce to 1,000 by 2009. The move will bring $44.5 million a year in salaries and benefits to the Bay State.

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The "clean tech" industry may not be big enough to stave off a recession this year, but states increasingly see such companies as economic drivers of the future – and are beginning to compete among themselves to attract them. So far, Massachusetts and California have taken the lead, but less obvious competitors, such as Iowa and Minnesota, are also vying for a share of the clean-tech market.

"This is a serious economic opportunity," says Daniel Esty, director of the Center for Business and the Environment at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. "You already see some states that have established this as part of their play to the world and a number of others that are going to be stepping up into this marketplace in the coming years."

Global investment in clean-tech research and enterprises approached $100 billion in 2007, and much of that money was invested in the United States. Of about $3 billion in "green" venture capital worldwide, half went to enterprises in California, and Massachusetts got about 10 percent. Opportunities for clean tech will only multiply, say analysts, citing mounting pressure to find commercially viable alternatives to fossil fuels.

"Energy transformation represents one of the biggest technology opportunities we will ever witness," says Nick d'Arbeloff, executive director of the New England Clean Energy Council in Cambridge, Mass., a lobbying group for the industry. "We're going to see lots of different technologies come of age, be applied, and generate large companies, many jobs, and lots of wealth.… You can literally leave the green argument at home and argue solely on the basis of economic benefit."

At least half the states have launched initiatives to foster clean-tech industries within their borders. Iowa Gov. Chet Culver (D) last year created the $100 million Iowa Power Fund to give grants for research and development of renewable-energy technologies. Wisconsin earmarked $150 million beginning this spring for a renewable-energy grant and loan program, and Minnesota's government in 2005 allocated $20 million to the University of Minnesota for renewable-energy research.