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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

April 8, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Clean energy: The next big cluster for Seattle. Plus, Howard bares his soul, no foam

Whether the government shuts down or not, a major event will happen in D.C. on Monday. The Brookings Institution will roll out its “metropolitan business planning” concept for three pilot areas: Northeast Ohio, the Twin Cities and Seattle. According to Brookings’ Mark Muro, “metro business planning is all about local regions taking the lead in deciding how they want to grow, and what investments they need to make it happen. In short, the plans reflect a new era of more assertive ‘bottom up’ economic development practice.”

The Prosperity Partnership, the region’s coalition of 350 business, government and labor groups, has taken the lead here. The “Puget Sound Prospectus” focuses on building the next major business cluster in clean technology and energy efficiency. The energy efficiency market alone is projected to be worth $700 billion by 2030 and will be a major export market (China is already trying to corner this lucrative niche). It proposes a Building Energy Efficiency and Testing Integration Center where entrepreneurs can test, evaluate and integrate promising products and services before bringing them to market.

The BETI steering committee includes Boeing, Battelle/Pacific Northwest National Lab, Microsoft, Puget Sound Energy, Frontrunner, the city of Seattle, University of Washington, the Seattle Foundation and the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce among others. Leveraging grants, donations and state funding, the immediate goal is 1,000 new jobs and $140 million in economic impact by 2021, “a return on investment of almost 18:1.”

That might sound like small-ball, but done right it’s just the beginning to attracting capital, talent and innovation. It’s worked before here, but the world’s not standing still. In a high-cost energy future, this is a niche that could prove highly profitable for Seattle.

Speaking of the Seattle Chamber, I had to give a talk in Bellevue Thursday so I missed the sold-out luncheon with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz as keynoter. My colleague Melissa Allison live-Tweeted the event, and it sounds as if Schultz was remarkably forthcoming about the company’s swoon and revival, with King-5’s Meeghan Black as interlocutor.

At the lowest point, “it was very possible that Starbucks was not going to make it,” he said. “I was 100 percent honest, I was emotional and there were times when I was scared.” The big coffee boss is promoting his new book (hey, I can identify), but still, this is more bracing stuff than we hear from all the Jack Welch clones out there.

The Starbucks turnaround required shedding 35,000 jobs and closing some 950 stores. But Schultz’s return as CEO proved successful. “This was a personal battle we had,” he said, “that the world had lined up against us.” I presume he meant the company and was not using the royal “we.” (Put down the phone, Howard, I’m joking.)

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Deficits don’t count

That’s what Mr. Cheney said

What’s different now?

Comments | More in Energy, Entrepreneurship, Environment, Starbucks

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