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The Transitional Economy

July 18, 2011 - I am not a native Cincinnatian. I don't have terribly strong feelings about Cincy one way or the other. Since I'm kind of an artsy-fartsy person, the fact that Cincy has an incredible arts scene for a city its size - only about 300,000 people live in the city proper - is perfect. Since I'm also a gardener, the fact that Cincinnati is cursed with the worst soil on the planet is a bummer. Since I'm a suburbanite, the fact that the city is, and has long been, broke, is a subject of little interest. (Build your tax base, already!!)

All of the foregoing notwithstanding, the tree hugger in me is gleeful about the lead story in this week's Business Courier: "Cincinnati cleans up," followed by the words "Region's green economy now responsible for thousands of jobs." In other words, jobs created by business with an eye toward not just the bottom line, but the environment as well, have become enough of a factor to be written about in a local business periodical. Why has that become a story of importance all of a sudden?

Because the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, based in Washington, D.C., has issued a report about green economy jobs. The report features some very interesting statistics, among them numbers that indicate the Cincinnati region added more than 3,700 "clean" jobs between 2003 and 2010. That brings the total up to a respectable 18,525, or 1.9% of the local workforce. These figures place us in the middle of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the country. (Greater Cincinnati comprises 15 counties, including counties in Indiana and Kentucky.) The three areas demonstrating the greatest green economy growth are Knoxville, Tenn., Raleigh, N.C., and Des Moines, Iowa - two of which are in the middle of the country, you'll notice, and not on the coasts!

Not only is Cincy on track with growing its green economy, it ranks in the top ten metro areas that make green products for export. We're no. ten, and - would you believe it - Cleveland is no. nine. Are the other eight in California? No, they're not! They're in places like South Carolina, Arkansas, Michigan, and Kentucky. OK, to be perfectly honest, no. six is San Jose. And yes, Albany, N.Y. is no. three. Make no mistake, however: the Midwest and the South are significant players.

Anyone who has kept abreast of renewable energy knows that the United States is not, nor has it ever been, in the lead when it comes to the business of renewable energy. Who are the countries that have shown leadership in this area? The report points to China and Germany. China, because it's an environmental basket case and has to clean up before it experiences ecological collapse, and Germany, because it's the right thing to do, and they'd love to capture the western part of the market. Other countries showed leadership much earlier on, including Denmark, England, and Holland.

Has Cincinnati earned a mention in this regard? Believe it or not, Cincinnati State was the first school in Ohio, and one of the first nationally, to offer a renewable energy major. Furthermore, Cincy was one of the first cities in the country to offer 15-year tax abatements for LEED building design. Its metropolitan sewer district is making use of green technology to reclaim water, and the city wants to expand the use of solar energy in downtown buildings.

Just like cartographers did on the maps of old, this time with an environmental twist, Cincinnati should be marked with the words "Here Be Green Jobs!"

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