The Lake Erie Crescent (LEC) initiative is a regional effort to catalyze and support long-term sustainable growth throughout the western basin of Lake Erie from Detroit, MI, to Youngstown, OH.
From the Rust Belt to the Maker Belt
Changing the direction of this nation doesn’t require American businesses, local officials (mayors, county councils, etc), civil sector foundations, and academic institutions to wait on Washington. We have the capacity and opportunity to act now, locally and regionally, to tap into the economic opportunities that will continue to emerge over the coming decades. Accordingly, the Strategic Innovation Lab is creating a series of “bottom up” regional initiatives across the U.S., each designed to focus regional stakeholders toward generating their own prosperity and security by pursuing, capturing, and tapping into the three largest pools of 21st Century market demand available today:
Sixty percent of Americans now want a walkable, service-rich, transit oriented lifestyle, which is only available on one percent of metropolitan land.
Global food supply will have to increase 60 percent by 2050 and 100 percent of production needs to be regenerative in nature; rebuilding soils, cleaning waterways, and fixing nitrogen and phosphorus cycles.
To meet the demand of three billion rising middle class consumers, the race is on for a revolution in resource productivity, driving new energy, materials, products, services, and integrated systems.
The Lake Erie Crescent is the first of these initiatives. The Rust Belt rose as a regional economy, collapsed as a regional economy, and can be revitalized as a regional economy if only it can redirect its collective energies, resources, and investments toward a new design. For the cities of the western shore of Lake Erie, the value proposition is clear: by strategically capturing the burgeoning market demand outlined above, the region will be able to compete and lead on a global scale and, in the process, provide the prosperity and security that seems so elusive to our citizens today. By serving as a catalyst for organization and coordination on a regional scale, the LEC initiative intends to create a new era of jobs, investment, and sustainable growth that can serve as a model for the rest of America to follow.
Getting Started: A Focus on Cleveland
Cleveland has tremendous assets: one of the largest freshwater resources in the world; affordable, available urban land; underutilized industrial capacity; world renowned academic institutions; and a competitive workforce infused with a Midwestern pragmatism and an ability to get things done. As such, Cleveland has enormous economic potential and will serve as the launchpad for the LEC concept that is intended to be both replicated and scaled across the entire region.
To demonstrate this potential, the Strategic Innovation Lab is developing four separate but integrated and mutually supporting endeavors:
The Advanced Materials Development Group (AMDG)
With the realities of climate change, we face a seemingly intractable stranded asset problem with regard to hydrocarbon resources: we can’t afford to burn hydrocarbons, but we can’t afford to wipe them off the balance sheets either. The opportunity is just as clear: we can preserve the very real economic value of hydrocarbons if only we move them up the value chain as materials and products rather than up the smokestack as nonrenewable energy. To capture this opportunity, the AMDG is being established as a partnership of the engineering colleges of Case Western Reserve University, the Ohio State University, the University of Cincinnati, and the University of Akron working alongside regional industrial partners such as Fairmount-Santrol, Lubrizol, PolyOne, and Ford. The purpose of the AMDG is to creatively integrate and leverage Ohio’s academic, industrial, technical, intellectual, and human capital resources to create economically viable businesses to transform the nation’s hydrocarbon stranded assets into an economic opportunity through the development and commercialization of sustainable advanced material products, technologies, and services to meet the market demand of a growing global middle class.
The Affordable Passive Housing Initiative
Much of the demand for advanced materials will come from the housing market. Across the entire region, there is a distinct need to develop affordable, energy-efficient, and healthy homes located in mixed-use, mixed-income, transit-oriented neighborhoods. The Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s PNC SmartHome Cleveland project proved that it is possible to build a high-quality, good-looking house that meets both the housing need and the Passive House energy standard—the most rigorous residential energy performance standard in the world. However, the current high per unit cost of these homes (approximately 30% higher than a conventional home) is an affordability issue, mostly due to the costs of using imported advanced materials to meet efficiency standards. By integrating the AMDG with the Affordable Passive Housing Initiative, costs can be reduced by both increasing the volume of available passive homes on the market and by using locally-produced advanced materials, technologies, and services.
The Clean Energy Finance Hub
Infusing these initiatives with capital will be key. Recognizing this, Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish announced on April 20, 2015 the creation of the Cuyahoga County Clean Energy Financing Hub—a new program the Strategic Innovation Lab helped to develop. The “Hub’s” purpose is to assist businesses, institutions, local governments, and eventually homeowners in cutting energy costs as well as purchasing new clean energy retrofits and renewable power supplies. By leveraging $225,000 of County resources, the County’s Department of Sustainability will make up to $120 million available of private sector money for low cost financing to help consumers to save money by purchasing more efficient homes and home systems to include HVAC equipment, motors, and renewable energy systems. As the “Hub” matures, its processes, frameworks, and finance ecosystem can expand to include a wide array of products and services such as energy producing anaerobic digesters that leverage local/urban agriculture byproducts, microgrid and smartgrid systems, and advanced energy storage technologies.
Leveraging Regional Institutional Purchasing Power
By redirecting the purchasing and investment power of key regional institutions (community foundations and major universities, as well as professional sports teams, banks, and hospitals) back into the region, the capital basis for a sustainable regional economy can begin right now. The LEC seeks to redirect an initial $1 billion of the collective purchasing and investment power of these institutions to develop a regional purchasing and investment framework that leverages increasing demand for smart growth, locally grown regenerative agriculture, and renewable/carbon neutral energy systems. As an example, CWRU’s 2012 energy audit has identified up to $21 million in energy efficiency upgrades it would like to implement as part of its carbon reduction plan. All or part of these upgrades are ideally suited to leverage Cuyahoga County’s Clean Energy Finance Hub and, in the process, help provide jobs, investment opportunities, and demand for advanced materials and technologies.