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Partnerships for Regional Energy Innovation in Omaha, Nebraska

Howard W. Buffett, Policy Advisor in the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation provides an update on the first regional Energy Innovation Conference hosted yesterday in Omaha, Nebraska.


The administration has made it a priority to encourage partnerships across all sectors of the economy in order to address the greatest challenges facing our nation.  We recognize that government must play a convening and coordinating role in catalyzing progress on the President’s agenda, especially around efforts to forge effective relationships with organizations of all types.  This is particularly important in the area of energy, where new advancements are critical for our nation’s future.  In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Barack Obama stated “We need to encourage American innovation … [and] no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy.”


In supporting this priority, the administration convened a regional conference on energy innovation yesterday in Omaha, Nebraska, focused on connecting entrepreneurs and small enterprise with representatives from organizations across sectors.  This conference was a unique partnership between the City of Omaha, Gallup, the Kauffman Foundation, and the Department of Energy.  Nearly two hundred attendees met at Gallup University’s Omaha Campus to discuss issues ranging from regional gap funding and human capital needs, to collaboration and the early adoption of energy innovation. 


This meeting continued conversations that began in Washington D.C. on May 7, hosted by a variety of offices in the White House, and led by Undersecretary of Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy, Dr. Kristina Johnson.  Undersecretary Johnson presented the opening address at Omaha’s convening, where she discussed the importance of increasing our nation's use of clean energy and the necessity of diversifying our energy use portfolios.  Ted Zoller, Director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, presented the afternoon keynote remarks on regional energy innovation clusters and the interconnectivity of energy markets and sector leaders.  Finally, a series of deep dive sessions and issue reporting concluded the conference.


In attendance were representatives from local, regional, and national organizations, federal representation from the White House National Economic Council and Domestic Policy Council, theU.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Defense, and theU.S. Small Business Administration, as well as representation from the United Nations.  Additionally, local government was represented by the Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle, State Senators Haar and Mello, and the Nebraska Commissioner of Labor, Catherine Lang.


During the conference, organizations in each sector identified their role in addressing both near-term and long-term energy challenges, stressing the necessity of integrated and coordinated solutions.  Private corporations and venture capital firms expressed their interest in providing business acumen to start-up enterprises.  They also indicated that the focus of organizational advancement needs to be directed toward human capital development, not simply increases of financial capital into the market.


Academia, including the Universities of Nebraska, Minnesota, Chicago, North Carolina Chapel Hill, and Arizona State, as well as regional community colleges, discussed its role in addressing the human capital needs identified by the attendees, and described its ability to create environments that spur constant innovation and business start-up opportunities.  Philanthropic foundations such as the Kauffman Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the A.E. Casey Foundation identified their strengths in working strategically with multiple stakeholders to address organizational needs, and their role in supplying risk capital to support energy innovation and human capital development.  Finally, non-profits, including the Nebraska Community Foundation, the Innovation Accelerator, and the Center for Rural Affairs explained their role in working with local communities.  Through their on-the-ground experience and relationships, they are able to identify local needs and interventions best supported by the other sectors represented at the conference.


The day concluded with a reception co-convened by the Meeting of the Minds and the engineering firm HDR.  Overall, yesterday’s conference presented a unique cross-section of perspectives, provided an atmosphere for new cross-sector partnerships, and made progress for the administration’s ongoing efforts to advance dialogue and understanding between all sectors of the economy.