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Local Chambers as Change Agents: Creating Economic Vitality through Clean Energy and Innovation

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The geography of traditional energy sources -- coal, oil, natural gas -- was set long before humans walked the planet. Even the most determined and business hungry community cannot will itself into becoming a natural gas or oil hub.

In contrast, though, smart forward-thinking communities can establish themselves as clean energy hubs and start to attract significant new investment and job creation. In this economic environment, it comes as no surprise that across the country, from coast to coast, communities are setting their sites on becoming clean energy hubs.

What is unexpected, however, is the catalyst for much of this initiative: local chambers of commerce, which are working with their member companies to attract new investment, support business growth and diversify their local economies around clean energy and energy efficiency.

The extent to which local chambers of commerce are providing leadership in the clean energy revolution around the country is the focus of a new report from my organization, Chambers of Innovation and Clean Energy. The report found that while clean energy progress remains slow at the national level, local chambers of commerce have seen the renewable light and are becoming major drivers of innovation and economic development in their communities.

During my 25 years of work with business and policy makers, I've rarely seen the level of interest and enthusiasm for any issue that we're seeing among local chambers of commerce regarding renewable energy and energy efficiency. In fact, local chambers seem to understand energy efficiency and the benefits for their members companies better than any other business group that I've had the opportunity to work with.

Why? Well our new report -- "Local Chambers as Change Agents: Creating Economic Vitality through Clean Energy and Innovation" -- provides the first comprehensive look into how local chambers are attracting investment, supporting business growth and diversifying their local economies around clean energy and energy efficiency. With 10 in-depth case studies, the report shows how chambers are helping their business members save millions of dollars through energy efficiency, establishing demonstration sites for renewable energy technologies and leading the charge to modernize the electric grid.

Based on surveys of hundreds of local chambers of commerce, our report highlights chambers in Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois, Texas, Utah, Tennessee, Michigan, Massachusetts, and California. By catalyzing clean energy projects in their own communities and convening stakeholders -- including policymakers, regulators, entrepreneurs, investors, academics, and labor groups--around clean energy efforts, these chambers are spurring new business opportunities for local companies and giving their member businesses a voice in policy discussions around clean energy and energy efficiency.

Nicole Stika, Senior Director of Energy Services at the Council of Smaller Enterprises, the small business partner of the local Cleveland chamber, the Greater Cleveland Partnership, told us that "even chambers in states known for oil and coal production are helping their members dramatically reduce their energy use and utility bills using simple energy efficiency upgrades."

The report also includes case studies from states long known for manufacturing, where local chambers are sparking new market opportunities for their member companies through clean energy initiatives. In Flint, Michigan, the local chamber is helping to increase demand for electric vehicles, supporting local manufacturers that produce EV engines. And in Asheville, North Carolina, the local chamber's new network to coordinate shipping routes among manufacturers is helping companies realize significant fuel savings.

For more than a century, local chambers of commerce have served as the trusted voice for millions of American businesses. Today these local chambers continue to shape the economic vitality of their cities and towns by helping businesses address big challenges in our energy landscape: a slowly recovering economy, volatile energy prices, global competition in manufacturing and technology development, and aging electric grids.

It is a welcome development, one that promises a wealthier and healthier future for our children and our communities.

The new report can be found at here.