Whether it was steel, the railroad, the automobile, or the Internet, America’s leadership in technological innovation has made it the world’s economic power for the last 100 years. Today, we’re on the brink of the next revolution with the transition to clean energy. Of course, new technologies inevitably push old ones aside — personal computers, for example, killed typewriter industry in the 1980s.
The transition to clean energy will inevitably have the same effect. While many communities will immediately prosper from new solar and wind plants or advanced battery production, others will initially lose jobs and even businesses or industries. Yet these same communities that might suffer during the transition, particularly those in the industrial Northeast and Midwest and rural South and Plains, could capitalize on clean energy. They just don’t have access to the economic tools to do it on their own. That is why Third Way worked with Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.) to develop Clean Energy Business Zones (CBiZ).
CBiZ recognizes that the private sector and particularly small businesses — not government — are in the best position to create new jobs. It creates specific incentives for these businesses to locate in areas that have skilled workers or a modern infrastructure but have lost jobs or been economically disadvantaged by the change from conventional to clean energy. This will help spur growth in areas that too often in the past missed the economic benefits of innovation.
Make no mistake, this is not just about creating the next Microsoft or securing a massive wind turbine factory. In places like Rep. Maffei’s Syracuse-area Congressional District it could also mean the difference for a contractor who wants to expand his building efficiency business or allow a researcher to hire the staff she needs to manufacture a new type of LED lighting.
This program would be modeled on the successful Empowerment Zone program, but would be distinct and would focus specifically on helping communities take advantage of clean energy. The zones would provide businesses substantial financial incentives to build such sectors including employment tax credits, increased business expense deductions, and favored capital gains treatment.
America has led virtually every technological revolution of the past century. We’ll do it again with clean energy. But we have the opportunity to make sure that communities that missed out on the economic booms of past transformations don’t miss out yet again. The CBiZ program is one important tool we can use to help American business grow where growth is needed most.