At the VerdeXchange Marketmakers Conference that took place in downtown Los Angeles this week, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gave a keynote speech to an audience of 500 industry leaders working to build and shape the green economy of Los Angeles and the nation. The group included individuals working in both the public and private sectors to further the development of technologies and markets related to energy efficiency, electricity transmission, alternative fuel vehicles, clean water, low carbon transportation, and green building. In his presentation, Mayor Villaraigosa explained how his focus on developing Los Angeles’s clean technology market is helping him address some of the biggest challenges facing the city.
According to Villaraigosa, over 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2015, a 10 percent increase over four years ago. And in the coming years, 85 percent of jobs will need to be created in cities. In the face of absent leadership from the federal government, city leaders will need to come up with innovative ideas and take bold actions to determine how to balance growth with the need to provide residents with work and livable communities in the face of dwindling resources.
To that end, the mayor has set out to establish Los Angeles as the country’s leading hub for clean tech innovation, an effort that will create new jobs and improve the city’s economy. “LA is the creative capital of the country and maybe even the world. And it is fast becoming the clean tech capital of the country,” said Villaraigosa. This statement is sure to conjure some doubts, but there are convincing arguments that support Los Angeles as a city that is leading in the clean tech industry.
Villaraigosa touted Los Angeles’ strong brand when it comes to its university system. According to the mayor, the city’s top three research universities – USC, UCLA, and Caltech – are responsible for more patents than any other three schools in any other city. This strong foundation for research, coupled with the city government’s commitment to addressing sustainability issues, has the potential to spur innovation, technology transfer, and startup creation here in Los Angeles.
The mayor also spoke about his recent trade mission to Asia, a ten day trip that brought about fifteen companies to Shanghai, Chongqing and Beijing, among others. The goal of the trip was to match clean tech companies with Chinese corporations and investors. China is expected to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in clean technologies in coming years. A report by the WWF estimated the country’s clean tech investment at $65 billion per year, the highest amount in the world by a significant margin.
Clean tech has been a focus for Mayor Villaraigosa for several years now. In 2009, he launched Clean Tech LA, a partnership with LA’s universities and the business community aimed at leveraging the city’s resources to establish it as a global capital of clean technology. Villaraigosa has also been a staunch supporter of the development of a clean tech corridor in downtown Los Angeles, a project that he’s said is the cornerstone of his efforts to establish LA as a clean tech leader. Sadly, the dissolution of California’s Redevelopment Agency (CRA) is threatening to derail the progress that has been made on this initiative.
The CRA was also a key partner to the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, a non-profit that launched in October. But despite losing the support of the CRA, Mayor Villaraigosa announced that the incubator will start construction on a permanent facility later this year. The facility is planned to house over 20 clean tech businesses in downtown LA. Two electric vehicle manufacturers have already opened locations in LA – Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer BYD and CODA.
Kara Scharwath is a corporate social responsibility professional, marketing consultant and Sustainable Management MBA Candidate. She is currently working as a Graduate Associate in Corporate Citizenship at the Walt Disney Company while pursuing her degree at Presidio Graduate School. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.