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Report Highlights Innovation Trends

Aerial view of the Port of Miami, Florida
The Port of Miami’s $1-billion improvement projects aimed at taking advantage of the Panama Canal expansion are among the efforts lauded in a report on state innovations worth watching issued by the Brookings-Rockefeller Project on State and Metropolitan Innovation. Wikimedia Commons

The Brookings-Rockefeller Project on State and Metropolitan Innovation identifies programs that could spark trends in 2013.

February 5, 2013—Innovative projects to upgrade Florida’s seaports, spur research into additive manufacturing (3-D printing), encourage energy-efficient building retrofits, and fund infrastructure improvements highlight a list of 10 trends to watch in 2013, published recently by the Brookings-Rockefeller Project on State and Metropolitan Innovation. The Brookings-Rockefeller Project is a five-year collaboration of the Brookings Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation—which provided a $10-million grant in 2011—to identify and promote state and local innovative solutions.

The report, Innovations to Watch, was prepared by Bruce Katz, a vice president of the Brookings Institution, in Washington, D.C., and the founding director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, and Owen Washburn, a senior policy analyst there.

“Looking across the country, we find a nation teeming with smart, pragmatic solutions to national economic challenges,” the authors write. “These innovations and practices show that American problem solving does not rely exclusively on the machinations of the federal government.”

The report lauds Florida for creating the Office of Freight Logistics and Passenger Operations (FLP) as a way to coordinate freight infrastructure and seaport investments to emphasize projects with the greatest projected economic impact for the state. The Port of Miami is undertaking $1 billion in improvements—including a $180-million deep-dredging project—to best take advantage of the Panama Canal expansion. State leaders have said that within two years they want to double exports leaving Florida’s ports. (See “Ports Plan for New Vessels,” Civil Engineering online, January 24, 2012; and “Miami Seaport Strengthens Rail Connections,” Civil Engineering online, June 12, 2012.)

The new National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII), announced in August 2012, will be located in Youngstown, Ohio, thanks to an ambitious coalition of regional interests in a tri-state area including Pennsylvania and West Virginia looking for a way to revive their staggered manufacturing sectors. The coalition raised $40 million to study methods to perfect 3-D printing on a large, industrial scale. Federal agencies will provide NAMII with $30 million to fund their research.

“Regional institutions like Lorain County Community College, specializing in sensor technology, and Case Western Reserve, with expertise in medical device development, will be matched with industry expertise from local manufacturing firms to help the Youngstown-based institute crack the code on 3-D printing,” the authors state.

Another innovation to watch in 2013 is Retrofit Chicago, an initiative to fund energy-efficient retrofits of city buildings. The city recently developed the Chicago Infrastructure Trust as a means of raising private funding for the project. The efforts are projected to reduce the city’s annual $170-million energy budget by as much as $20 million a year. The city recently issued a request for qualifications for financial institutions interested in providing $100 million of the eventual $200 million sought.

“Through public sector efforts alone, Retrofit Chicago will save the equivalent of 30,000 cars worth of greenhouse gas emissions annually,” the authors state. “But perhaps most importantly, in a region with a stubbornly high unemployment rate (nearly 1 in 10 people remain out of work) it is projected to create 2,000 new jobs in the near term.

“This model is ripe for replication in the United States and elsewhere, and, given Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel’s role as chair of the C40 Sustainable Infrastructure Finance Network, Chicago is positioned to foster dialogue, learning, and collaboration with other cities,” the report states.

Both innovations in the report’s governance category involve funding infrastructure: An effort centered in Los Angeles to speed planned transportation infrastructure investment, and a cooperative agreement between Oregon, Washington, California, and British Columbia to find innovative funding for energy, water, and wastewater infrastructure projects.

The report highlights efforts by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in building and leading the national America Fast Forward coalition, which helped advance changes to the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program, greatly expanding the program’s lending capacity.

The resulting $545.9-million loan the City of Los Angeles received from the TIFIA allowed the city to move forward with a slate of transit and highway infrastructure projects approved by voters in 2008 as Measure R.

“This metro-led reform signals a new bottom-up federalist approach that could be replicated to other economy-building efforts,” the authors state.

The West Coast Infrastructure Exchange (WCX) is the cooperative agreement that seeks to find innovative ways to develop, manage, and finance the projected $1 trillion in water and energy infrastructure investments the region expects to make in the next 30 years. (See “West Coast States, Province Jointly Fund Infrastructure,” Civil Engineering online, December 18, 2012.)

The WCX will seek to identify project development methods that create more value per dollar, connect investors to opportunities in the public infrastructure sector, and create and advance new mechanisms for financing projects that are more attractive to private investors not familiar with public infrastructure investment.



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