City Wants To Attract More Green Businesses To Austin
***updated 3/31/11 1:58 p.m.
The City of Austin could soon offer a green business certification package to environmentally-minded companies wanting to settle in Austin. At the same time, it is considering incentives for industry pledging to use sustainable business practices. Though nothing’s been formalized, city staff says something might be announced as early as next week during the city’s Go Green conference.
Solid Waste Services Director Bob Gedert said the city is still discussing what kinds of financial incentives can be offered. But as the city moves forward with its zero waste goal of 90 percent landfill diversion by 2040, Gedert anticipates the large volume of recycled materials can be used to entice green entrepreneurial businesses. Gedert envisions businesses that take tossed out materials and refinishes and resells them.
“We can guarantee some volume of materials,” Gedert said. “The City of Austin is large enough and we’re collecting approximately 55,000 tons of recyclables per year.”
Gedert said paper fiber and plastics collected through the city’s single stream recycling program gets shipped to Mexico.
“It would be a very good economic tool for us to develop those markets, those end markets that consume this material, into the Austin area,” he said.
Austin’s high tech industry reputation has got the ball rolling. Last December, the Austin City Council agreed give cash incentives to SunPower Corp., a California solar panel technology company, for each job it creates and keeps over the next nine years.
“We’ve really started to leverage that and apply that expertise to new clean technology areas,” said Jose Beciero, Director of Economic Development for Clean Energy at the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
Beciero said green building is another sector the city can attract. Austin Energy has the longest running green building program in the country, and is responsible for helping develop the LEED green building rating certification used by U.S. Green Building Council.
“Some of the service providers to the clean energy industry and other types of green businesses are attracted to Austin by the rebates, incentives, or even subsidies that the city or the utility provides,” he said.
Brenda Smith and her family own Green Earth Oil Plus. They sell biodegradable motor oil to automotive shops, and for small equipment such as lawn mowers or chainsaws. Smith said she wishes the city offered some incentives for environmentally friendly businesses trying not to contribute to Austin’s waste.
“They do so much for all these big businesses that come to town,” Smith said. She added she’d be happy with a low-interest loan to improve her warehouse’s energy efficiency or a break on utility bills.
The risk of offering city-backed incentives to green businesses is funding a new industry with an uncertain future. No city wants to pay for a company to set up shop; then watch it fail in a few years. Becerio said cities must find the perfect balance of deciding how much to fund and for how long.
“One smart way of doing it is having incentive programs phase out over time,” Becerio said.
Another complaint is incentives that bring large companies, especially high tech companies, do little to create blue collar jobs.
The Go Green conference set for next week at the Austin Convention Center will expand on what the city can do to attract more green businesses, or at least encourage them to use Austin’s resources.