Washington State Should Flex Software Muscle to Grab Lead in Cleantech, Says Michael Butler

2/9/09Follow @gthuang

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software.” He points to Itron in the Spokane, WA area as an example of a leading smart-grid company. (Butler also cited biofuels as a local strength, especially Boeing’s work for the aviation industry.)

The outlook for the solar industry in Washington is not as hot. “The bleak reality is we really don’t have a competitive advantage in solar,” Butler says. “For Washington, the biggest challenge in solar is tax equity.” Oregon, New Mexico, California, and Arizona all benefit from more favorable tax laws.

More importantly, Butler and others are waging a broader political campaign for cleantech in the state. “Bluntly, Washington is behind the power curve in terms of public-private partnership. Even states like Michigan and Pennsylvania” are ahead of Washington, he says. “The Washington state legislature and Governor understand what kinds of regulations, tax policies, and infrastructure are important to the cleantech sector. What we’ve been hearing is, ‘We thought we were doing a good job for you guys.’ But here the government is doing nothing compared to other states.”

Why is that? “We haven’t done a good job of educating them,” Butler says. Which is where his task force enters the picture. He is trying to help unite local organizations like Puget Sound Energy, Boeing, Stoel Rives, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Verdiem, Powerit, and large trade groups like the Washington Technology Industry Association—and together tell the state government, “Here’s where we think Washington is strong, and here’s where we want to organize our resources.”

Of course, Butler also sees a much broader significance of cleantech to the economy. “I’m hopeful it’s going to drive innovation and drive growth,” he says. Cleantech “could be the engine that pulls the economy out of the recession. I think it’s the best chance for growth. I don’t know where else you’re going to get growth. Financial services? No. The tech sector? Very low growth. This is the best chance we have to rev up the engine.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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