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Berkeley emerges as a leader in environmental business promotion.

Catherine Zoi recently spent an afternoon touring a section of Berkeley, Calif. Her stops included the PolyPlus Battery Company, which is developing rechargeable batteries for use in non-polluting electric vehicles, and Plastic Works, a firm that makes retail display fixtures from recycled plastic.

Catherine Zoi is deputy director of the White House Office of Environmental Policy. She came to Berkeley to see firsthand the city's initiatives to attract and retain its environmental business sector.

Zoi visited with local officials and businesspeople in the West Berkeley neighborhood that has come to be known as Green Valley and remarked that progress in the environmental area will come from state and local initiatives like Berkeley's.

One of the first cities to institute residential and commercial recycling, Berkeley is now emerging as a leader in promoting environmental businesses.

"In its economic development strategy, Berkeley is highlighting businesses either whose basic product or service benefits the environment or who provide another type of service or product but in a more environmentally sound way than before," said Director of Community Development Neil Mayer.

"A major goal is to show the harmony between job creation and economic development on the one hand and environmental quality on the other. We can provide a combination of economic opportunity for our residents, fiscal benefits to the city and improvements in environmental quality for ourselves and others around us."

Berkeley's strategy has several major components, including the compilation of an inventory of the approximately 125 environmental firms and organizations--many of which are innovative smaller firms and new start-ups--that provide five percent of local jobs.

The city is sharing this information with the companies so that they may network among each other and help lure additional firms to the area and has sought their input in local policy initiatives.

Winning city council approval of the project as a top economic development priority and providing firms assistance in areas such as finding sites, expediting the permit process, obtaining financing and finding qualified workers is a second major aspect.

The city helped PolyPlus Battery, a spin-off from research at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, find its current laboratory space and did the same for Electronically Monitored Ecosystems, which develops and manufactures micro-climate monitoring and datalogging systems that help farmers determine the optimum timing and intensity for pesticide applications.

Businesses receiving assistance are encouraged to refer job openings to First Source, a city program that places unemployed Berkeley residents in positions in city firms. While providing jobs for the unemployed, First Source aims to reduce pollution- generating, energy-consuming commutes into the city by non- residents.

With neighboring Oakland, Berkeley has won designation for Green Valley as one of California's first five Recycling Market Development Zones. Firms situated in or relocating to the zone that use recycled materials to produce marketable products are eligible for low-interest loans.

Ecology Center, which collects and transports recyclables to the processor under contract with the city, received a $480,000 RMDZ loan to purchase equipment and upgrade its site, enabling the organization to add mixed paper, cardboard and magazines to the city's curbside collection program.

Plastic Works borrowed through the program to purchase machinery for expanding production.

Berkeley has rezoned part of the city as industrial to prevent displacement of manufacturing and recycling businesses by retail and office uses.

The city has established a new revolving loan program in which environmental businesses are a major priority and has begun developing an incubator facility for small environmental firms.

Strategies for further action include attracting expanding "green" firms, additional outreach to existing businesses and collaborative efforts to improve the transfer of environmental technologies developed at the University of California at Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories to companies in the region.

Another success was the addition of a countywide "green business" assistance program to the Alameda Center for Environmental Technologies proposal. Developed by the Alameda County Economic Development Advisory Board and East Bay Conversion and Reinvestment Commission, the proposal is an innovative response to the economic impact of military base closures in the East Bay.

The ACET plan intends to commercialize new environmental technologies developed by scientists at the area's public universities and three national laboratories as well as support the growth of a variety of environmental enterprises to create jobs to replace those lost.

In 1992, the city council established a Citizens Environmental Advisory Commission, which gave its first Berkeley Environmental Business Award to Meyer Sound, a Green Valley stereo speaker manufacturer which pioneered the use of nonstyrofoam packaging.

For more information contact Neil Mayer, director of community development, Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center Building, 2180 Milvia Street, Berkeley, Calif. 94704; (510) 644-6073.
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Title Annotation:City Ideas That Work; Berkeley, California
Author:Turner, Laura
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jan 23, 1995
Words:771
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