Moderated by Rick Badie
Metro Atlanta strives to be a global industry leader in clean technology. A Metro Atlanta Chamber official writes about that organization’s push to recruit green companies here and spur job growth. Meanwhile, an adviser to a clean-tech entrepreneurial program heralds our region’s emerging start-up sector in the field. Also the executive director for All About Disabilities, writes about state funding support to help employ young people with disabilities.
Clean tech’s a growing sector
By Carol Jordan
Much has been written, and deservedly so, on Atlanta as an emerging hub for technology startups.
Most of the light on start-ups – from the news media, investors and economic developers – shines on entrepreneurs with perceived potential to scale large and fast with their mobile/digital/Internet apps.
Little attention, however, has so far been directed to the products, services and technologies emerging from the small but growing clean technology sector in Atlanta’s start-up community — entrepreneurs on a mission not only to make money, but to help solve significant societal and environmental challenges.
SoldeSal, for example, develops and deploys sustainable, cost-effective, solar thermal desalination technology for water-scarce areas. It is applicable to coastal ocean water and inland brackish water. And Reviresco Corporation’s technology generates electricity from processed municipal waste, diverting tons of raw waste from landfills annually.
A cluster of these “green” entrepreneurs can be found in a mentorship program of the Green Chamber of the South — an organization dedicated to the adoption of green energy, clean technology and sustainable business practices. Its nonprofit Greenhouse Accelerator program supports early stage entrepreneurs with technologies, products and services that foster renewable energy, reduced energy consumption, redirected waste streams, and more efficient use of natural resources
For example, through proprietary engineering innovations, Norcross-based Intelligent Energy Optimizers has improved the light output, lifespan and energy efficiency of commercial induction lighting fixtures — a type of fluorescent lighting — beyond other systems in the market today. One such advancement decreases the operating temperature of the bulb which, in turn, reduces air conditioning costs on the shop floor.
Another start-up, Retrofit America, has a mission to jump start demand for energy-efficiency retrofits in 67 million older homes across America. It seeks to do so by licensing its proprietary software and services IT platform to a national network of home performance contractors. Retrofitting, or sealing air and duct leaks, adding insulation, and upgrading heating and cooling systems, has multiple impacts: lowered energy cost, improved comfort, job creation and greenhouse gas emission reduction.
The Greenhouse Accelerator distinguishes itself from other Atlanta entrepreneur programs in a number of ways. It focuses exclusively on green/clean tech sectors; offers pro bono mentoring services and long-term support (up to three years) including no-interest loans; and emphasizes local green job creation, impactful mitigation and long-term value rather than a large and quick return on investment. It also focuses on community outreach – linking participants with local universities and companies and senior business executives who provide pro bono guidance.
While all early stage start-ups face funding challenges, those in green tech sectors often are overlooked by investors. Development cycles can take longer. Customer demand may be unclear. Opportunity for “scale up and exit” may be deemed insufficient. Large sums of money can be needed for proof of concept (for example, to build a demonstration plant).
The Greenhouse Accelerator helps its entrepreneurs address such challenges. It connects them with industry for market validation and encourages “organic growth” when external funding is elusive. Mission is the driver for these entrepreneurs determined to make the world a better place.
Carol Jordan is on the advisory board of the Greenhouse Accelerator, an entrepreneur program.
Improve Atlanta’s clean-tech economy
By Bill Strang
Clean technology is a strength to this city and an opportunity to catalyze job growth. In 2011, a Brookings Institution study found Atlanta is not only home to the most diverse clean metropolitan economy, but is also positioned to become a global leader in the technology.
We cannot have prosperity without sustainability efforts that preserve our environment. The Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Clean Tech Council works with regional partners and business leaders to cultivate a clean-tech economy and attract and grow jobs by promoting best practices among businesses. The council comprises Atlanta’s top clean-tech executives and public policy and higher education leaders.
Clean tech incorporates high-wage job opportunities that require innovative and advanced technological skills. More than 275,000 students are enrolled in 66 institutions learning skills for tomorrow’s jobs.
At Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, students gain hands-on experience at the National Electric Energy Testing Center. The center conducts rsearch to improve the reliability and efficiency of the nation’s electric transmission and distribution system. It is supported by 40 equipment manufacturers and utility companies that serve more than 60 percent of U.S. customers.
Tech is also home to the Strategic Energy Institute. It connects faculty and external partners who execute interdisciplinary research initiatives that increase sustainability, affordability and reliability within the energy cycle.
Students who graduate with the skills acquired by these programs have a plethora of opportunities. Since 2010, metro Atlanta has recruited 34 clean-tech companies, including the GE Smart Grid Center of Excellence, Round 2, Comverge, Newell Recycling and others that have created more than 2,057 jobs. Energy efficiency and reduced environmental impact remain key components in clean-tech business practices.
At TOTO USA, we care for people, the planet and our water system by implementing advanced environmental initiatives. Our products, technological innovations, operations and policies exhibit a commitment to clean technology that dates back to our beginning. We recycle post-industrial gray water to reduce potable water consumption, power our facility with green electricity from Georgia Power, encourage employees to bring recyclables to TOTO plants if their municipalities do not offer such services, and facilitate additional clean-tech measures.
Higher education institutions and policy and business leaders will continue to work together to spawn Atlanta’s job growth from clean technologies. We are at the forefront of the clean-tech industry, dedicated to making Atlanta the global hub for such activities.
Bill Strang, president of operations, Americas, for TOTO USA , is chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Clean Tech Leadership Council.
Employ the disabled
By Kathy Keeley
Finding a job is always a challenge. For people with developmental disabilities, it is often nearly impossible. Georgians with disabilities such as autism or cerebral palsy experience how society focuses on their limitations instead of strengths. The overall unemployment rate in the U.S. hovers at 7 percent; it’s closer to 80 percent for people with developmental disabilities.
Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities has authorized just $7.4 million for “supported employment” services. Supported employment matches individuals with developmental disabilities with employment opportunities in typical workplaces. The goal is to have these individuals working alongside people without disabilities.
A coalition of advocacy groups asked the General Assembly to support an appropriation of state funds to help 2014 high school graduates find and keep jobs. The House has added $250,000 for this program, and the Senate increased that to appropriately $500,000. It is critical to keep that money in the budget during conference committee deliberations and as the budget is sent to Gov. Nathan Deal.
For 40 years, children with developmental disabilities have been mainstreamed in the classroom, but not in the workforce. Many employers allow misinformation and preconceptions to pose obstacles to hiring. They worry that employees will not be able to keep up with the pace of work, or that their customers will disapprove. Yet the opposite is true.
Georgia employers have experienced the benefits of hard-working workers who can outperform their non-disabled peers. Publix, Walgreens, Home Depot, the Georgia Aquarium, PF Chang’s, Kroger and Hamilton Health Care in Dalton can testify to the strengths of these workers. Lower turnover, lower absenteeism rates, strong job loyalty, increased employee morale and enhanced corporate image are just a few of the benefits that accrue when employers hire people with disabilities.
Beyond that, the return to the workers and their families is incalculable. Without this program, these students would likely finish high school only to return home and sit on the couch, waiting until they qualify for a Medicaid waiver to pay for these services.
By giving unconventional employees an opportunity to prove themselves, Georgia employers have begun to demonstrate that this group of workers has untapped potential. By focusing on their abilities, not their disabilities, we can promote workplace success and improve the lives of many individuals.
As a community, we need to work together to make sure opportunities exist for all. We need this funding to provide necessary job development and job coaching so that people with developmental disabilities can experience what many of us take for granted: the satisfaction and economic security that only a job can provide.
Kathy Keeley is the executive director for All About Developmental Disabilities.