Amid the doom and gloom of the current economic picture, a glimmer of hope can be found for the future of the tri-county region, particularly its gift for developing niche operations at the cutting edge of technology.
Those niches are sometimes hard to find and they don’t always get the public attention they deserve. But in the coming search for new “green” technologies, there are signs the region can more than hold its own.
The annual Business Outlook Conference hosted by the Ventura County Economic Development Association and held Oct. 17 in Westlake Village underscores the powerful impact that green products and new applications developed right here are going to have on the national economy in the next cycle of recovery.
These are not futuristic visions like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pie-in-the-sky “hydrogen highway” or phony gizmos guaranteed to turn your gas guzzler into a Honda Fit. Instead, they are real-world products or applications being developed with an eye toward profitability and toward meeting the demands for the global marketplace.
Consider the following:
• Limoneira, one of the oldest companies in the Tri-Counties, is now powering its packing house with a 1 megawatt solar array that, if it works as planned, will generate a positive return on its $8 million in invested capital very quickly. Much of this is thanks to federal and state incentives for solar but even so, taking a 1 megawatt load off the state’s overstressed grid has huge benefits.
• Gill’s Onions is working on ways to reduce energy costs through advanced power generation and also turning its attention to the recycling of its agricultural waste. What’s driving the change – requirements from big customers like Wal-Mart that suppliers do their part to green their operations.
• California’s climate change legislation, known as AB 32 is going to create a cap and trade system for hydrogen credits that will be on the leading edge of what’s going to be adopted across the rest of the country – no matter who wins the White House. That means our bankers and lawyers and CPAs will have a jump on the rest of the country as legal, accounting and financing issues are hammered out.
Jolt of excitement
Already, the Tri-Counties has global leaders in alternative energy such as Clipper Windpower of Carpinteria and Ceres, start-ups in Ventura County. Ceres is leading the biofuel revolution away from expensive-to-grow corn and toward less-expensive switchgrass alternatives.
In previous technology cycles, the Tri-Counties has left its mark on industries such as remote sensing/imaging, computer software and peripherals, telecommunications devices, biomedical devices and biotechnology processes. Some of the stand-alone survivors are Teledyne Technologies, Mentor, Interlink Electronics, Power-One and Amgen. Others are part of Raytheon, FLIR Systems, Citrix Online, Veeco Instruments and Allergan.
Growing green applications
What’s clear is that with the emerging group of green technology companies already up and running and the large number of green applications at existing companies, a new wave of innovation based on energy efficiency and reduced hydrocarbon emissions already has begun.
This is an exciting development in an economy that needs a jolt of excitement to get back on track. The Pacific Coast Business Times was pleased to have sponsored the VCEDA conference as well as other efforts to make our readers aware of the innovation that’s taking place under our noses.