• WisBusiness

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Germany mission highlights green economic growth


By John Imes
Ask me why I'm going to Germany.

Yes, it's partly because I can celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Wisconsin-Hessen sister-state relationship and the 20th anniversary of the fall of The Wall.

Yes, it's partly because the delegation going with me includes the likes of ambassadors Tom Loftus (Norway) and Rick Graber (Czech Republic), as well as Roberta Gassman, secretary of Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development, and other distinguished leaders from business, academia, and non-profits.

But mainly it's because Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich are rolling out a long red carpet to showcase their bright green economic growth that includes cutting-edge high speed rail technology, advanced water systems, large-scale solar and bio-gas facilities and new directions in environmental and economic cooperation.

I'm going because I want to help Wisconsin look beyond the traditional approaches and solutions of the past to new strategies and policies that let us achieve the environment, quality of life and healthy business climate we deserve. I expect to capture, study, learn and bring back lessons on energy, transportation, manufacturing and higher education that are keys to the emerging green economy.

Where are we going? Here are a few stops:

Cutting-edge high speed rail stations, technology and systems: The largest employer in Germany and a major economic driver is the Deustche Bundesbahn (German National Railroad). Every 500 million euro (roughly $680 million) invested in the network expansion creates approximately 12,500 jobs during the construction phase and roughly 2,500 to 3,400 jobs from related business and service providers. We will get behind-the-scenes tours of high-speed rail stations, construction, maintenance, control and virtual training centers.

Cleantech exchange program: We will study green building design and offshore wind generation that will provide up to 15 percent of German power by 2020.

Reliable and environmentally friendly energy and water resources management: Wisconsin values balanced and diverse energy investments. So we'll get to see examples of that with a large solar farm and a bio-gas facility that feeds refined biogas into the German natural gas grid. Another highlight will be a presentation on Bavaria's water resources management, one of the most advanced water systems in the world.

New directions in environmental governance: What sets Germany apart is its "can-do" attitude and demonstrated ability to bring all the players to the table. Germany's National Association of Manufacturers and the Federal Environmental Ministry work together to address issues like climate change, set meaningful environmental goals and provide flexibility and incentives for superior environmental performance. We know some of this because we borrowed similar ideas 10 years ago to help set up our bi-partisan, groundbreaking Green Tier law that was championed by Sen. Mark Miller and Sen. Neal Kedzie and signed by Governor Jim Doyle.

So why am I going to Germany? Because in the midst of economic turmoil comes opportunity. By learning from German successes and encouraging our own policymakers, businesses and other stakeholders to rethink the traditional approaches and solutions of the past, we can go in a bold new direction -- one that results in new green job growth and investment to help sustain Wisconsin's future economy.

-- Imes is executive director of Wisconsin Environmental Initiative, a statewide coalition based in Madison. The March 21-29 program is sponsored by WisBusiness.com, GKA Research, Ernst & Young and Cultures Venture International.

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