Toledoans are used to bearing the brunt of jokes. After a slew of insulting song lyrics and demeaning comments, the Glass City seems resigned to the fact the world considers it an antiquated, second-rate rust pit. Even when people point out something good about Toledo, it’s usually accompanied by a cheeky aside.
A great example is an article that ran in The Economist in May. It took a look at which areas were vigorously pursuing businesses that produced clean, renewable energy technology. Leading the pack, not surprisingly, were areas such as the Silicon Valley, Boston and Austin, Texas. However, the article went on to mention some other areas that were going green.
“A few other places — experts mention New Jersey, Arizona and (strangest of all) Toledo, Ohio —are also trying to attract clean-tech start-ups,” the article read.
There it was: Toledo listed as one of the cities embracing clean-energy companies and exploring ways to use more of it. Still, we were the only place that got a disparaging disclaimer. But before you chalk it up to yet another negative perception of Northwest Ohio, wait a second.
This might be a good thing.
The most dangerous competitor is the one no one sees coming, something Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner recognizes. This week he launched a bold idea that could cement our place as a center of alternative energy.
“I am proposing Toledo as the ideal location for an Ohio Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development,” he said. “This will improve the environment for existing industry and help us develop new industries in alternative energy for Toledo’s future.”
Now, you might be tempted to laugh the idea off as Carty’s latest attempt to reach for the stars, but there are actually a lot of solid reasons why the Glass City could and should get this center. While we’re only taking baby steps into the field of clean energy, we’re heading in a lot of different directions. We have four wind turbines along Route 6 near Bowling Green, and there are plans in the works to expand that into an even larger wind farm. The Andersons in Maumee is the most successful ethanol company in the United States, and they’re aggressively expanding their ethanol operation to handle the growing demand.
As I mentioned in a column back in May, Lucas County is searching for ways to turn the new Toledo Sports Arena into the first green arena in the U.S. TARTA has also been running some of their bus fleet on biodiesel in an experiment funded through grant money, a move that could lead to increased usage in the future. Finally, the First Solar Inc. plant in Perrysburg Township is a huge player in the clean-energy scene, cranking out affordable and efficient solar panels.
Then there’s the University of Toledo, which has also made great strides in solar research. That’s why Finkbeiner believes that the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development could link up with UT, enhancing both. The facility would look for more ways to supplement Ohio’s energy needs with clean, renewable sources, while searching for innovative ways to improve efficiency.
The only catch is that Toledo has to get this center fast. Mayor Finkbeiner acknowledged that Toledo is only narrowly leading the rest of the state in technology, and that we could be surpassed if we don’t strike now, while we have the advantage.
Perhaps I have my rose-colored glasses on, but I see a lot more than just clean energy with this proposal. I see a potential Renaissance for the Glass City, a chance to supplement our manufacturing jobs with a brand new industry. That means more jobs, more money, and a chance to make Toledo the alternative energy leader of the Midwest and a major player for the country. This could wipe away decades of stereotypes portraying Toledo as a polluted, decaying city, turning us into a leader at what could be one of the most important industries of the 21st century.
This city has come together before, with things like the Keep Jeep campaign. I hope it can come together behind this proposal, showing a work force and community that wants to stake its claim as a clean energy leader. A city that is tired of being mocked is ready to be admired.
Karl Rundgren is managing editor and co-anchor for FOX Toledo News.