Economic and Community Development
Lone Star Clean Tech
An article in this week’s Time highlights the emergence of Austin, Texas as one of the nation’s premier alternative energy and clean tech hubs. While the author plays up the political angle in this story – green tech in a red state – I read a shining example of smart economic development. Austin’s clean tech story is a lesson is effective cluster strategy, public private partnership, talented workforce, strong community and building off existing assets. Here are key excerpts:
For Austin, high tech had to come before clean tech. The city has long been a science-and-technology hub, thanks to the presence of the sprawling main campus of the University of Texas, with a student body of 50,000. In the mid-1980s one of those students was Michael Dell, who founded his eponymous computer company in a University of Texas dorm room before moving Dell to a sprawling campus north of Austin. Around the same time, the federal government and U.S. semi-conductor manufacturers launched a research consortium — based in Austin — called Sematech, pooling public and private investment to compete with Japan, which was threatening to dominate the semiconductor industry.
Sematech and Dell helped create a high-tech boom in Austin through the 1990s, luring tens of thousands of talented engineers who came for the jobs and stayed for the Austin lifestyle … So as clean tech began to heat up in the early part of the past decade, Austin was a logical place for start-ups and entrepreneurs to set up shop. An experienced technical workforce was already available, ready to shift from manufacturing computer chips to building solar panels.
"We like the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and there's just a ton of talent here that you can't get in Illinois," says Joe Scarci, SolarBridge's vice president of marketing. "It's a great place to recruit."
Of course, none of this is news to the economic development team at the Austin Chamber of Commerce. Clean energy is one of their focus industry segments. They know that growth in the clean tech cluster is as much about smart strategy as good luck. And they’ve been getting good press coverage about this for years. Check out all the great info on their Clean Energy webpage, pay special attention to the Pecan Street Project.