The state of Washington State's cleantech industry
How strong is Washington's cleantech sector? Not very according to a piece on Washington's tech-industry focused blog TechFlash from earlier this week. Jon Prentice wrote:
...Investors and entrepreneurs recognize that the Evergreen State has largely failed—thus far—to become a national leader in the development and deployment of clean technology.
How is this possible in the state where Microsoft and Amazon.com came to life? Isn't Washington the Evergreen State where everyone is a tree hugger and startups abound? That may be the case, but those factors are not translating into cleantech companies or investment, according to Prentice's article.
The problem is that the state lacks a coherent strategy around cleantech, says Tom Ranken, president and CEO of the trade group Washington Clean Technology Alliance. This means that the bulk of cleantech investment in the state goes toward buying technologies manufactured elsewhere, according to him.
"It’s great that we buy windmills and invest in technologies like that," he says. "Wouldn’t it be better if those companies that manufacture those items were located in this state?"
Not all is lost in Washington. The state's economy came in second in a ranking that determines which state economies are knowledge-based, globalized, entrepreneurial, IT-driven and innovation-based, according to The 2010 State New Economy Index released Wednesday by the Kauffman Foundation. This means that Washington has a large number of high-tech firms, a well-trained workforce and "above-average levels of entrepreneurship," according to The Kauffman Foundation.
That's good news for the state's tech sector as a whole, but if it wants to catch up to cleantech powerhouses like California and China before it's too late, Washington needs to get moving. Answering key regulatory issues is at the top of what Ranken says he thinks needs to get done. Even if the answer on any specific question is no, he says, it's important to know that so the industry can move to the next thing. Next on his list is for the state's biggest promoters to be more honest about the state of its cleantech sector.
“My suspicion is that there’s this belief that we’re already doing it and that we’re already winners," he says. "That we need to develop those companies from scratch hasn’t registered yet."
What fields is it smart for the state to focus on? Ones in which it already has a strong base, says Ranken. Aviation biofuels ranks high on his list thanks to work Boeing is already doing on the issue. Smart grid technology fits well because of the ties that field has to software and the state's large population of software developers (not to mention companies such as Itron calling the state home). Finally, the recent success of McKinstry leads Ranken to say he believes green building technologies--especially those that address systemic issues such as the integration of human beings, weather and materials--could be a big part of the state's future cleantech boom, if it is to have one.