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Innovation: Somerville, MA Urban Lab Initiative

Somerville, MA deserves kudos for taking an innovative approach to building maintenance that other cities should emulate by creating the Somerville Urban Lab Initiative……as should the state of Massachusetts. Cities and the state both own a plethora of dated buildings in need of constant repair and upgrades that never seem to get done due to funding limitations. Most are terribly energy inefficient also. There have also been documented instances where a government entity used either the wrong contractor or the wrong materials / approach. This could potentially represent a state of the art solution to many old problems……and save extensive amounts on energy costs in the future.

The state of Massachusetts has also made significant investments in new and emerging technologies that utilize innovative approaches and materials in their products / projects – many focused of energy efficiency or generation – particularly germane to the Mass Clean Energy Center. This investment often goes into developing alpha and beta lab scale product development phases. Throughout the development process, Mass CEC carefully monitor progress of these companies from not only a financial use of funds standpoint, but also as due diligence in these products’ viability and safety. Many times these ‘products’ lack the viable next step of a product sale or a paid project implementation. MA CEC had developed a similar approach in MA called Deploy MA within cities willing to commit city owned resources with projects to be funded by MA CEC. Biggest obstacle to date – cities themselves – but what about state owned assets and properties also? Somerville is addressing the city approach.

By utilizing city owned properties, Somerville has taken an innovative approach to not only upgrade existing assets, but do it using next generation products and methodologies, to benefit the city itself as well as the small businesses located in Massachusetts doing the work. In this version, Somerville seems to have committed the assets, but has not attached any funding mechanism, rather leave that to individual companies to figure out themselves. Seems that the City and state should be able to collaborate on innovation and create a methodology / program that could be used by cities throughout MA working with small businesses located in MA. Start with Somerville with the vision and guts to give it a go.

Maybe the state of Massachusetts could do some economic development on this level with early stage companies, going beyond elephant hunting for only the GE’s of the world. These smaller businesses could be the jobs engine vs. the large jobs exporters as is happening with GE since moving HQ to MA. The state also owns hundreds of buildings that could become part of the products to market stage for these companies as they create jobs. The state would only provide funding for projects with companies they funded alpha / beta activities to expand to actual commercial projects. Utilizing assets owned by the City of Somerville, would create a pilot that could be morphed to other cities in Massachusetts and to state buildings and agencies located throughout.

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