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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.

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While California's clean-tech industries take the lion's share of overall investment, their impact on the state's huge economy is not as big as that of clean-tech sectors in smaller states.

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Clean-energy firms in Massachusetts, for example, currently account for more than 14,500 jobs. That makes clean tech the 10th largest sector in the state, and it's growing at a rate of 20 percent a year.

Aside from Governor Patrick's support of ecofirms, Massachusetts' House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi last month proposed allocating $50 million in taxpayer dollars to stimulate the creation of green jobs in the state.

"[Green industry] is a major part of the state economy, and it's likely only to grow," says Ian Bowles, secretary of energy and environmental affairs.

In addition to government support, a strong university system and local natural resources are keys to determining which states will prevail as green-industry hubs.

Easy access to a wealth of graduates from top Massachusetts universities and other colleges in New England was a big help to Mitch Tyson, chief executive officer of Advanced Electron Beams in Wilmington, Mass., which specializes in industrial energy-efficiency technologies. "It was so easy to hire really good, smart engineers," says Mr. Tyson, whose firm regularly hosts interns from Boston-area schools such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northeastern University.

For states with a lesser concentration of intellectual capital, an abundance of raw materials can help to attract ecobusiness.

"If you're in Iowa or Tennessee, what you're saying is, 'Gee, we don't have a lot of intellectual assets, but we've got agricultural crops [that can be used to make biofuels], and we can attract the entrepreneurial businesses to come here by giving them money and hopefully that will attract the talent and create a workforce and some economic development,' " says Hemant Taneja, managing director at General Catalyst Partners, a Cambridge-based venture capital firm with an interest in clean industry.

California's move to the forefront of the ecoindustry stems from a mix of supportive government policy and a preexisting culture of innovation, says Dan Adler, president of the San Francisco-based California Clean Energy Fund, a nonprofit environmental investment group.

"We have an incredible entrepreneurial economy here. The presence of Silicon Valley is adding an increasing amount of intellectual heft to the energy challenge. Silicon Valley is not something one can just sort of wave a wand and recreate," says Mr. Adler. "It's a mysterious mix that leads to an entrepreneurial culture with risk capital and world-class research institutions behind it."