A roundtable of business and nonprofit leaders crowed but also noted room to grow as they wrapped up Minneapolis Bragging Week with a discussion on sustainability and the local economy.
Mayor Betsy Hodges convened the July 18 roundtable on the patio of Tiny Diner, the South Minneapolis eatery that is the latest outpost in restaurateur Kim Bartmann’s mini-empire. Bartmann’s Red Stag restaurant in Northeast was state’s first to prove its green credentials by earning LEED certification, and Tiny Diner’s patio is shaded by one of the city’s largest solar-energy arrays.
Seated next to Bartmann, Hodges bragged about Minneapolis’ sustainability successes, including the higher rates of residential recycling recorded since a citywide switch to a single-sort system less than two years ago. She also noted efforts to lower energy use in municipal buildings were paying off in fewer greenhouse gas emissions and shrinking energy bills. They were down than $6 million between 2008 and 2012, according to a city report.
Also at the table was Grant Brohm, vice president of Silicon Energy, an Iron Range-based manufacturer of solar photovoltaic panels. The company also runs a “solar show room” in Northeast’s old Grain Belt Brewery complex.
“There’s a community education component needed to get people comfortable with jumping into solar,” Brohm said.
Describing himself as “super-bullish” on the solar-energy business, he said there was an emerging need for a workforce trained to install and maintain solar systems.
Louis King, president and CEO of North Minneapolis-based Summit OIC, a job training and placement program, said growing the green economy could be one path to reducing unemployment. King was a founder of HIRE Minnesota, a coalition that aims to end employment disparities in part by adding training opportunities for jobs in renewable energy and other fields.
“Our workforce has to be in step with the changing times,” King said.
Also at the table was Matt Kazinka of Latino Economic Development Center, an immigrant-founded nonprofit with offices on East Lake Street.
Kazinka said immigrant business owners are excited about opportunities to save energy and increase recycling, but are often left out of the conversation. LEDC has worked with the city and Hennepin County to survey Latino business owners along the Lake Street corridor and better connect them with sustainability programs.
“We’ve been that connecting point,” he said.
Bill Droessler of Environmental Initiative, a Minneapolis nonprofit that seeks to build public-private environmental partnerships, took the final seat that the roundtable. Droessler said Environmental Initiative aims to make energy efficiency and responsible use of resources the “default” for business owners, but that policy and infrastructure changes would make those decisions easier.
Hodges noted the city was conducting a review of its regulations on small businesses to see “how we get in the way” of those decisions. And she said the city should send a strong message to business owners that going green makes financial sense.
Bartmann agreed, adding: “You don’t need to be a tree-hugger or an environmentalist to invest in new technology that will save money for your businesses.”
But she noted high up-front costs for energy efficient technologies are a barrier for many small businesses. It can take years for an investment like Tiny Diner’s solar array to pay off.
In July, the array wasn’t even operating. Bartmann needed an Xcel Energy inspector to sign off the array’s recent conversion from single-phase to more efficient three-phase power, but the inspector’s visit was more than two months overdue.
“We’re not generating any power right now and it’s high summer,” she said.
Creek cleanup rescheduled — again
The 8th-annual Minnehaha Creek Cleanup was delayed a second time to give floodwaters a chance to recede before volunteers go hunting for litter.
The date of the cleanup is now set for Sept. 7. The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District usually holds the event in June but was forced by record rainfalls to reschedule for July.
Come mid-July, Lake Minnetonka had fallen just 8 inches from the all-time high set June 23. Measurements taken July 18 showed Minnehaha Creeks’ source was still just an inch lower than the previous record high set in 2002.
The watershed district still aims to draw 2,000 volunteers to the event, put on with the support of Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company’s “Canoes for a Cause” campaign. For more information, or to RSVP, go to minnehahacreek.org/CleanUp.
If you’ve already registered, there’s no need to RSVP for the rescheduled event. If you’ve registered but can’t make it in September, the watershed district asks you to contact them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.