PUBLIC MEETINGS HELD IN PRIVATE VENUES = NEO BRAIN DRAIN

Submitted by Jeff Buster on Wed, 10/03/2007 - 15:26.
 

On September 13, 2007 I attended  the GREAT LAKES ENERGY DEVELOPMENT TASK FORCE  (they re-named the wind-on-the-lake task force) in the Thompson Hine LLP law firm’s office on the 39th floor of the Key Building in downtown Cleveland.

 

This was a meeting of a county commissioners’ committee – a public body. Why do you think the meeting was held in a law firm’s office instead of in a public venue? 

 

Nice view of the Lake.  Nice lunch provided, including roast beef sandwiches with a toothpick and a green olive on top. 

 

Richard Stuebi was there – I met Mr. Stuebi in his Cleveland Foundation offices months back and told him I was concerned about public meetings in law firm offices.  

 

So what’s wrong with meeting at a law firm instead of in the Cleveland Public Library or in the County Office building or any number of other public spaces.?

 

Quid pro Quo – that’s what’s wrong with it.   And it isn’t a unique occurrence in Cleveland.  Consider that Mayor Jackson “unveiled” the Continental Airlines – Hopkins Hub agreement at the law offices of Jones Day.  

 

But that’s another story – I’m trying to report on the wind-on-the-lake meeting…

 

 

Ed Weston of Wire-Net addressed the audience – essentially presenting the REPP REPORT which was discussed at REI in 2004.   The 2004 REPP Report suggested that NEO had the legacy manufacturing product propensities that seemed similar to the machined products in multi megawatt wind turbines. 

 

However the REPP REPORT statistics didn’t pan out – and will not pan out - for NEO because of several disparities between European communities and NEO communities which  the Report doesn’t address.   The most important of those disparities is one critical supply chain commodity – educated manufacturing workers.  

 

How many machinists do you know in NEO.   I know two who can operate “lights out” shops. .  How many machinist students do you know?  I know zero.   Are the students competent in robotics and CAD/CAM?  Can the student you know program Fanuc robotic machines?  Look at Fanuc’s Japanese web site here.

 

Does anyone on the wind energy task force know any young NEO machinist that can program Fanuc robotics?  I’ll bet the answer is NO. 

 

And that’s why NEO won’t be seeing any new manufacturers of wind turbine components. 

 

Back to Ed Weston.  

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At the end of the luncheon meeting in Key Tower  Richard Stuebi called on Mr. Weston to present item V (supply chain issues) of the meeting’s printed agenda.  

 

Mr. Weston said, like the GCP banners say, “we have it all – together”.  Mr. Weston was relying on the REPP Report.  Then Mr. Weston told about manufacturing companies whose representatives had recently come through Cleveland to investigate the possibility of locating new manufacturing here. Mr. Weston  said one was an international company which had also visited Quebec and was looking at a third site in the South.  None of the companies had yet committed to Cleveland

 

So Mr. Stuebi then asked Mr. Weston – What are the issues with NEO that seem to concern the manufactures who send their scouts to NEO?

 

Mr. Weston, standing behind the Thomson Hine podium,  paused with his jaw sort of dropped open for what seemed like a very long minute,  looked up and around at the room’s suspended ceiling,  and took a deep breath. 

 

The 60 people in the room all quietly held their breath – me included. 

 

I’ll tell you what I was thinking during Mr. Weston’s long pause.  I was thinking that Mr. Weston is struggling with what he should say.  Too truthful may be too discouraging.  Too much spin isn’t too honest.  

 

So I think Mr. Weston answered honestly, but not as pessimistically as he really felt.

 

He told the audience there were three specific issues with the manufacturing scouts he had recently toured through NEO and Cleveland.

 

1.         One issue was the responsiveness – timeliness-  of local government to permit and regulatory requests.

2.         Another issue was incentive/subsidy money – the amount of financial assistance that  would be given to the incoming manufacturer.

3.         And the third issue was educated and skilled labor.  Who would run the manufacturing machinery?

 

So it all gets back to education in NEO.  We can scheme and dream about wind turbines on Lake Erie, but without a work force educated sufficiently to compete with the Europeans, the Indians, the Chinese, and the South Koreans, NEO won’t land wind component  manufacturing.

 

Spending a million dollars of taxpayer money to study the design requirements for  10 turbines out in Lake Erie won’t bring manufacturing jobs “top down” into NEO.   Anyway, we desperately need paychecks in NEO now – not ten years from now - if ever - with wind on the lake. 

 

I suddenly had a little epiphany…I felt like almost all the people having a free lunch in the Ivory Tower room – and comfortably salaried on someone’s (County, Cleveland Foundation, City, Science Center, Law firms, etc.) payroll – didn’t really get what was going on in NEO. 

 

The people in this room were having a comfortable and interesting time; figuring out how to do what the world had never been done before – install wind turbines off Cleveland in a freshwater lake which ices over in the winter.   This was a fun challenge that the “task force” believed they could get their arms around.

 

But the elephant in the room was that other challenge we have in NEO.  Education.  Particularly in Cleveland.   Education is a challenge that doesn’t seem like much fun.  And it is a challenge much more difficult than keeping wind turbines standing against the lake ice. 

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After the meeting was adjourned, I again mentioned to Mr. Stuebi that there was still no web site for the Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force.  How was NEO going to attract wind minded brains from Cambridge and Berkeley without a web site to show that NEO was avant garde?  I had asked Mr. Stuebi this same question a year ago, too.  I don’t think they want a web site.   Outsiders might get involved.  [Tyrone White, a Cleveland Foundation fellow, at the August 9, 2007 meeting, suggested creating a new sub-committee – an education /outreach committee.  According to the minutes to the August meeting, “The chair (County Prosecutor Bill Mason) said it will be taken into consideration.”]

 

I also mentioned to Mr. Stuebi that I continued to believe the dream-mission of placing turbines on the lake was a mistake for NEO and Cleveland.  I said what NEO needs first, needs now, is RAMTEC as proposed in 2004 and advanced by Mary Beth Matthews and Tom Strbac

 

RAMTEC’s where I’d put my tax million before wind on the lake, because without a solid foundation of education in NEO, our manufacturing enterprises won’t stand up to global competitive pressures – spending our tax dollars to figure out ice resistant foundations for lake wind turbines is a sadly misplaced priority.

So what is the "private venue = brain drain" equation?   Ask Fletcher Miller; he's back in San Diego after 16 and a half years at NASA Glenn.

It's good I ran back to my car, parked on Mall B - I got to it one step ahead of the meter-man.

 

 

 

 

 

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