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Green hands over the ocean

FOR Americans, moving to a low-carbon economy is starting to make more and more financial sense. Or as Gary McLaren put it: “There wasn’t any incentive until we started to feel the pain. Energy prices are playing an increasingly large part in the recovery of the economy and prices are continuing to go up.  The focus now is on a $4.00 gallon of gas. I know you laugh at that price in the UK but gas was $2.50 eight weeks ago. Rising energy prices will slow down our recovering economy and that will drive up inflation.”

MacLaren was speaking at BioCity in Nottingham where and he and colleague Greg Wingfield were representing the Greater Richmond Partnership (GRP), which promotes Virginia’s state capital as a business destination. The pair made a flying visit to BioCity to put the official seal on a Memorandum of Understanding, which co-promotes the green-tech business sectors developing in BioCity and Greater Richmond.

For BioCity, the MoU represents America recognition for the potential of Nottingham’s new green economy. For BioCity’s and Nottingham’s greentech businesses, the deal means help with accessing the markets of an American conurbation of 1.2m people, and which is just two hours’ drive from Washington DC. What’s more, Richmond already has a large incubator dedicated to fostering start-up companies in green-tech and renewable energy.

Richmond’s Dominion Resources GreenTech Incubator (DRGI) was set up in November 2009 and currently houses five companies, most of which are involved in renewable energy. Nick Gostick, BioCity’s incubation manager, visited the American facility last year and was struck by the way that this incubator differs from those often seen in Europe.

In the UK and continental Europe green-tech business parks and incubators are often high-design affairs incorporating the latest environmental technologies. The incubator in Richmond, by contrast, is in an ordinary large grey office building on an industrial estate. “It’s smart but functional,” says Gostick. “They didn’t build it from scratch but took over part of an existing building. It’s very business-like and very American in that ‘let’s get on with it’ way.” Perhaps, in essence, the Richmond DRGI actually offers an alternative philosophy on building a business in the greentech sector – namely, that making your products or services viable in the marketplace should come before creating a good impression with green office space.“In Europe the greentech business parks are often made possible by large grants while in America they are driven by private sponsorship,” says Gostick.

Regardless of the different approaches, the MoU is perhaps quiet recognition by the Americans of the potential they see in Nottingham’s green economy. In Greater Richmond, solar panels and wind turbines are still a rare sight – but things are changing as issues of energy cost and security begin to take centre stage. The state government of Virginia is now interested in developing off-shore wind farms and the Fortune 500-listed energy company Dominion Resources has put its money and its name into the Richmond incubator. What’s more, the city wants to get young green start-ups from Nottingham to think about expanding into Richmond – hence the MoU.

“You’re about ten years ahead of where we are in terms of wind turbine development because of the design work that has taken place in the UK since the late ‘90s,” said Greg Wingfield, president and CEO of the Greater Richmond Partnership, which also has a biotech MoU with BioCity. “But there are around 600 clean-tech companies in the USA now and the sector is evolving to broaden out and take in all kinds of products and services.”

He and colleague Gary McLaren, who is executive director of the Henrico County Economic Development Authority, also held a workshop for Nottingham green companies about how to start a business in Richmond. The workshop was chaired by Neil Horsley, CEO of Nottingham Development Enterprise. Local businesses taking part included LEDinLight, OuterArc and Dan & Adam Limited.

 

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